Around A.D. 800, the potato appears on Incan pottery.
When the ancient Peruvians first cultivated the potato 4,000 years ago, the crop was a mashing success. Andean farmers grew close to 3,000 different types of potatoes, some at altitudes as high as 14,000 feet, and their freeze-dried chuños are still an important part of Andean fare. Peru's Incas used potatoes to measure time based on how long they took to cook. Today, Peruvians import processed potatoes -- and use clocks to tell time.
In 1492, Spanish explorers arrive in the New World.
Gold-seeking conquistadors thought "papas" were a half-baked idea and elected to feed them to their slaves. The potato excited suspicion after it was brought back to Europe, because it was not mentioned in the Bible. Later, when Frederick the Great of Prussia sent potatoes to Kolberg during a famine, the hungry there sniffed, "The things have neither smell nor taste. Not even the dogs will eat them." Spuds finally became fashionable when Marie Antoinette wore potato blossoms in her hair.
North Americans taste their first potatoes in 1621.
In 1767, George Washington planted potatoes at Mount Vernon, and nearly 40 years later, Thomas Jefferson was the first president to serve french fries at the White House (a tradition continued with fervor by Bill Clinton). In 1836, Idaho's first potato grower, Henry Harmon Spalding, built a Presbyterian mission to teach Christianity and potato farming to the Nez Percé Indians. Spalding's first crop failed, but today Idaho is king of the potato, producing 28 percent of the nation's crop.