John Richard (J.R.) Simplot, who built one of America's most influential food businesses, passed away recently at age 99. His privately owned firm, JR Simplot Co., pioneered the frozen French fry as one of the food industry's landmark convenience items, but Simplot was a visionary and innovator in many other ways as well.
Most prominently, he became a minority partner in computer chip maker Micron Corp. when it was starting up in 1980, providing key financing in the firm's early years.
During World War II, JR Simplot Co. was a major supplier of dehydrated onions and potatoes to the U.S. armed forces. The development of the frozen French fry after the war gave the company its signature product, and a deal with McDonald's to become the chain's frozen fry supplier made it a foodservice heavyweight. Today, JR Simplot is one of the largest privately held companies in the world.