Mikesells Potato Chip Co. Founded by Pleasant Hill Man
By Judy Deeter
PLEASANT HILL - When Pleasant Hill native Daniel W. Mikesell began selling dried beef and sausage in 1910, he probably had no idea that his company would one day be America’s oldest potato chip company or that people would travel long distances to try his products.
Miami County birth records show that Daniel was born in Newton Township on March 12, 1883. His parents were J.D. and Mary Mikesell.
Mikesell moved to Dayton from Pleasant Hill in 1906 when he was about 23 years old. At first, he worked at selling dry goods and as a collector for the Home Telephone Company. In 1910, he purchased a dried beef slicer through a newspaper advertisement, and founded the D.W. Mikesell & Company to sell dried beef and sausage. He established the business near his home at 142 S. Williams St. in Dayton.
In the company’s early years, he used a bicycle to distribute his products. Some records say that when his bicycle needed repair, he took it to the bicycle shop owned by aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright. In 1913, he began using a Ford panel truck. He was the first in Dayton to own such a delivery truck.
Just as his business started, he had an opportunity to buy equipment to make what were known as “Saratoga chips” (potato chips). George Crum, a chef at the Moon Lake House in Saratoga Springs, New York invented the Saratoga chips in 1853. Mikesell added the potato chips to his product line in 1910.
Even though Mikesell didn’t know too much about potato chips at the time, he tried to make they anyway. Former company President Leslie C. Mapp said in a 1985 speech to the Newcomen Society of the United States that “Saratoga chips were an uncommon snack, and most people in Dayton had never sampled them. But, although he had little knowledge of the product, Mikesell gamely tackled production with a couple of kettles, some baskets and stirrers. Aided by his wife Martha, Mikesell peeled the potatoes, sliced them, fried them, packaged them and delivered the finished potato chips.”
In the same speech, Mapp also said, “It was a family business; not just ‘mom and pop,’ but the four Mikesell children as well, who would peel and slice potatoes by hand. It was a great day, Mary Mikesell Mapp recalled years afterward, when the family could purchase a potato peeling machine.”
When the great flood of 1913 struck Dayton, Mikesell was forced out of business, but he immediately started over. In 1915, the company was destroyed by fire. Once again he found money to re-start the business.
At first the chips were considered a ‘picnic snack’. The Mikesell family spent summers traveling to local and state fairs to sell the product. Leslie Mapp said, “They lived in a tent and sold from a glass case filled with potato chips, with the children soon developing an unerring knack for knowing how large a scoopful would fill a five-cent bag. The chips found eager customers and a solid family business was established.”
As more and more people began to enjoy the chips, they wanted them more often—not just as a picnic snack. The potato chip business took off! More equipment was purchased, delivery routes were created and the potato chips became available in local food stores.
In 1925, the company decided to make a play on the name Mikesell and the company name was changed to “Mike-sell’s”.
Despite hard times, the company grew in the “Depression” years of the 1930s. Mikesell acquired adjacent land and both built on that land and tore down his house to expand his company. In those years, he also began to sell his products outside of Dayton. In 1939, the company installed one of the first automated potato chip fryers. (It was also one of the first to install and automated packaging machine.)
The company moved to 333 Leo St. in 1955.
“Mike-sell’s” products had the founder’s name of D.W. Mikesell on their packaging. Daniel W. Mikesell spent the years 1910 through 1965 with the company. He is remembered as an innovator, a good businessman and as a persistent man who re-started his business twice. On a personal level, he is known as a well-loved family man and lover of music. He served as the choirmaster at his church. He is a “favorite son” of Pleasant Hill, Ohio.
What began as D.W. Mikesell’s little potato chip company turned into America’s oldest (and maybe best) potato chip company.
Sadly, in February, 2023, the company closed its doors for good, although it plans to sell its brand and intellectual property rights to another manufacturer. Learn more HERE.
Here are some links to stories about the closing: