The Betsy Ross Connection

Betsy Ross Potato Chip Factory 1

Among my earliest memories of Richland is the abandoned Betsy Ross Potato Chip factory, which had always stood at the far end of South Race Street, its bold red lettering atop the building proudly proclaiming its function.

I remember asking my mother about it when I was very young. 

She told me that Betsy Ross Potato Chips had been the most popular chips for years until they decided to change the recipe, and then seemingly overnight their popularity plummeted and they went out of business.

Years later, in the early 1960s, I used to see an elderly lady, dressed in what looked like a black horseback riding outfit, drive into town and stop at the post office, presumably to pick up her mail. Classmate Linda Hatt told me that the lady was the Betsy Ross of potato chip fame, and that she lived in that mansion at the edge of Stouchsburg just past Royer’s Dam.

The abandoned factory served as a play area for Richland kids, mostly throwing rocks or whatever was available at the windows. The one and only time that I ventured inside it, accompanied by Wayne Busbea, the floor was covered with broken glass and the machines were so rusted that it didn’t seem safe or sensible to spend much time there.

The factory has long since been torn down, and the last time I drove through Richland, about ten years ago with my aunt Jane and uncle Allen, for some reason I neglected to snap a photo of the space where it used to be.

More recently I’ve tried to find out what I could about the factory, but information is hard to come by. I did find three brief mentions in the Lebanon Daily News between 1933 and 1966.

Arthur C. Ross apparently began manufacturing the potato chips, which he named after his daughter Betsy (born in 1920), in Pottsville in 1924. Two years later he moved the plant to Lebanon, presumably because he was originally a native of that city. Three years after that, in 1929, he took over what had originally been the King Chocolate Factory (built in 1921) in Richland. 

There’s a brief mention of improvements being made to the factory in 1933; an addition for storage, loading, and a garage, as well as grading and seeding of the lawn and a steel flag pole, so even during the depression, Mr. Ross was not depressed, nowhere near.

In 1940 the company added cheese-coated popcorn under the name “O-Ke-Dokes” to its product lineup, and the factory was now providing employment for 50 workers. There is a mention of the “Ross’ airminded daughter, Betsy, this section’s only aviatrix.” 

Finally, in 1966, Arthur C. Ross, 73, died on Friday March 18 in his home in Stouchsburg. The brief obituary mentions that he closed the chip factory in 1947 which had grown to 80 employees by the time it went out of business, but it doesn’t provide a reason.

In the middle and late 1950’s, he and his wife, the late Bertie Peiffer Ross, were justices of the peace in Marion township, Berks County. Mrs. Ross died in December, 1963.
Ross was a veteran of Word War One, in which he served in the Army.
He is survived by one daughter Betsy, wife of Leslie Kramer, New York City.

So it was most likely wife Bertie that I saw coming to the post office in Richland in the early 60s.

Betsy Ross Potato chip Factory 2


On a whim I checked to see if I was related to Arthur C. Ross and the rather surprising result came back: “The husband of my 4th cousin once removed [see the family tree below]”.

In other words, Arthur Ross’s wife Bertie (or Bertha) was my father’s 4th cousin. I doubt any of them had any idea they were related or even knew each other. And I’m certain my mother didn’t know, because if she had, she would have been inviting them over for dinner all the time in hopes of being mentioned in their will. (Just kidding.)

It took me a bit, but eventually I realized that if my father and Bertie Ross were 4th cousins, then that means that my sister and I are 5th cousins of, wait for it…Bertie and Arthur’s daughter.

That’s right. I’m a 5th cousin of Betsy Ross! 

Husband of my 4th cousin once removed

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