Some women in the early 1900s did improve their lot in life, other than by a well-connected marriage. Miss Nellie Campbell, the Potato Chip Queen, was such an example. Miss Campbell came to Long Beach for her health and wanted to stay. When her money ran out she realized she either had to return to her relatives back East or earn her own living. One memorable day in 1908 she bought some potato chips which turned out to be limp and tasteless. This got her thinking. She went to the public library, read several cookbooks, and started experimenting. She bought a sack of potatoes, a new pan, and a gallon of olive oil. The chips she prepared were crisp and delicious. She convinced local markets and restaurants to buy them and within two years Campbell’s Chip sales had grown from a few pounds to over 1,000 pounds per month. An advertisement in the September 8, 1913 Santa Ana Register described her product as “always fresh, pure and crisp.”
Nellie set up a manufacturing business at 337 ½ First Street in 1909 and remained at that location until America entered World War I in 1917. Seeing her success others in Long Beach tried to get into the business, such as Alfred Von Grunigen (501 Alamitos), William Schmitt (347 The Pike), and E.R. Weaver (21100 E. 4th Street) but they couldn’t compete with Nellie and remained in business for less than a year. Nellie gave up the potato chip business sometime in 1917. She disappeared from Long Beach City Directories after that time. Where she went after 1917 remains unknown, unless one of our readers has additional information. But she left a tradition of potato chip making in the city. After the war other women took up the business—widow Ernestine Crilly set up a manufacturing business at 120 E. 4th Street in 1919; and Emma and Lora Brueckner who opened the Golden State Potato Chip Company at 506 W. Broadway in 1923. Nellie’s legacy continued.