|J.R. SIMPLOT (ap/file 1999)|
BOISE, Idaho - Billionaire J.R. Simplot, the spud king of America whose wealth also helped create one of the world's biggest computer chip makers, died yesterday at his Boise home. He was 99.
The coroner said Mr. Simplot's death was apparently from natural causes.
The quintessential Idaho farmer increasingly dominated the state's business and political landscape for 70 years, and the company that bears his name remains a powerful force today - in Idaho and beyond.
Mr. Simplot and his family were ranked at No. 80 on Forbes magazine's 2006 list of richest Americans, with an estimated wealth of $3.2 billion.
His businesses, still family-owned, manufacture fertilizers and irrigation products, process industrial chemicals, and sell fruits and vegetables.
In 1980, at age 71, Mr. Simplot took a gamble on the next generation of businessmen, giving Ward and Joe Parkinson $1 million for 40 percent of what would become computer chip maker
Over the years, he pumped in $20 million more to help Micron build its first manufacturing plant and to stay afloat. Micron became a major producer of DRAM memory chips, which are used to store information in personal computers.
Not a religious man - "I'm a fact man and if it don't add up, I don't buy it; I don't believe in hocus pocus," he said in a 1999 interview - Mr. Simplot credited his longevity to disdain for tobacco and alcohol.
He used to reward workers who quit smoking with $200 and once paid representatives to travel to Idaho schools to exhibit black lungs in bottles.
Born John Richard Simplot in Dubuque, Iowa, he grew up with five siblings on a hardscrabble homestead in Declo in south-central Idaho.
In 1923, he left home at age 14 with four $20 gold coins given to him by his mother. He paid $1 a day for room and board at Declo's only hotel.
Mr. Simplot bought interest-bearing scrip paid to teachers, who were also boarding there, for 50 cents on the dollar. He used it as for collateral on a bank loan to buy 600 hogs at $1 each.
He spent the winter shooting wild horses, selling the hides, and boiling the meat with potato scraps to feed the hogs.
When pork prices jumped the next year, he brought some rare fat hogs to market for a whopping $7,500.
That was Mr. Simplot's stake for the potato business. He leased land and from an early partner learned to plant certified seed, not cull potatoes as was common then. Idaho's dominance in potatoes grew with the innovation.
He bought an early electric potato sorter and by 1940 had bought or built 33 potato warehouses along the rich Snake River plains from Idaho Falls to Vale, Ore.
After World War II, his food production business expanded into freezing and canning, developing the product that would become the company's mainstay: the frozen french fry.
Mr. Simplot struck a deal with
Late into his life, the former McDonald's board member drove his white Lincoln Town Car with "Mr. Spud" vanity plates to the fast food chain several times a week for hash browns or french fries.
Mr. Simplot had several scrapes with the law. In the mid-70s, he was charged with trying to manipulate Maine potato futures. He was barred from commodities trading for six years and paid $50,000 in fines and an undisclosed amount to settle a lawsuit.
In 1977, he and the J.R. Simplot Co. each paid $40,000 in penalties for failing to report income and claiming false deductions.
In 2004, he donated his former home in the Boise Foothills to the state to be used as Idaho's governor's mansion.