The Idaho Potato Museum, located in Blackfoot, was designed to display the sometimes-winding path that the potato took while establishing itself as the food staple it is in North America. Most visitors find that the route isn’t nearly as linear as they might think. The potato museum opened as a trial in 1988, attended by a massive group of over two thousand guests.
Although it did not contain any actual exhibits or displays, the museum was considered a “hit” and led to the increased financial contributions necessary to making the museum a reality. They have continued to seek out authentic artifacts for display, like a 1600-year-old Peruvian vessel that is believed to be the very first potato specific storage container. They have also accepted donations from companies like Procter and Gamble as well as Pringles. Although technically a museum, the building is officially considered an “exposition” to make sure it appealed to as many people as possible.
The museum is loaded with fast facts to give guests quick access to information is small, palatable bites. For instance, although the potato was seen in Europe as early as the 1570s, it didn’t truly become a staple of their diets until the late 1600s/early 1700s. The potato was introduced to other countries by explorers in the 1600s as well (places like India, Russia, China, etc), but didn’t come to North America until 1621 with the first recorded planting in the US happening in 1719 in New Hampshire.
One of the exhibits at the potato museum focuses on how the potato helps contribute to world food security. Before the potato was established as a food option, the majority of farmers only used about half of their available land to plant grain and wheat while leaving the other half of their fields to “rest.” With the potato, those same farmers were able to rotate their crops and keep their fields active all year long - which leads to healthier soil and less pests and disease.
Another exhibit walks guests through the cultivation and harvesting process. Starting with some of the technology that was developed in the late 1800s (for instance, the potato digger was a massive labor and time saver), the exhibit shows how farmers did the work before the modern farm machines were designed.
One of the fan favorites in the museum is the Potato Lab section. The aptly named exhibit, located in a former freight platform, teaches guests by making use of fun potato-based experiments. There are also races with Mr. Potato Head and computer games that have been designed by the Idaho Potato Commission.
Visitors should also make sure to catch at least one of the four short movies that focus on the potato industry in Idaho and other related topics.
There is a small admission fee for adults to enter the potato museum, with a small discount for seniors, servicemembers, and AAA card carriers. Children ages 5 to 12 are also admitted with a discount, and children under the age of 4 are free.
The museum is open Mondays through Saturdays from 9am to 5pm September through May, and Mondays through Saturdays June, July, and August from 9:30am to 7pm. They are closed Sundays and major holidays.
The potato museum offers a fun, educational experience for students of all ages by designing field trips for them to teach them the history in a way that speaks to them on their level. Teachers who are interested in bringing this experience to their classroom should contact the staff at the museum by phone to schedule. Classrooms that have more than 15 students are entitled to a group discount. Tours of the museum will be led by trained and educated potato museum staff and can end with a trip to either the gift shop, the cafe, or both. Students will especially appreciate the Potato Lab, where they can try some hands-on experiment that make use of some of the lessons they may be learning in school - science, math, history, even art. They’ll also love the world’s largest potato chip, a Guinness Book of World Records winner. The museum is the perfect way to make learning fun.
Dining and Shopping
Guests who get hungry while visiting the potato museum (and, who wouldn’t), can stop at the cafe for a full potato dining experience - potatoes are served in salads, baked, in bread, and even chocolate dipped. Also, stop by the Spud Seller and pick up a variety of potato themed offerings. The shop sells potato soup mix to potato soap, the gift shop is the perfect way to take a little bit of the museum home.
Idaho Potato Museum, 130 Northwest Main Street, Blackfoot, ID 82331, Phone: 208-785-2517