overall: 1 1/4 in x 7 in x 6 1/2 in; 3.175 cm x 17.78 cm x 16.51 cm
This brown plastic Roll-O-Dex is the personal desktop address tool of Charles Elmer Doolin, the creator of Fritos and the co-founder of the Frito-Lay snack company. On the enclosed cards, Doolin had noted the phone numbers of many of his business associates at Frito-Lay, as well as associated friends and family throughout Texas and across the country.
The lid of the Roll-O-Dex is affixed with a yellow metal plaque bearing C.E. Doolin’s name in script; the bottom is covered in green felt. The interior of the box contains 14 double-sided address cards, each of which can be brought forward by pressing one of the 14 buttons on the front of the Roll-O-Dex. (Each button corresponds to two letters of the alphabet, and the final button has the word “close” written above it.)
Alongside the script text “Remembrance,” two patent numbers are listed on the inside lid of the Roll-O-Dex, both of which were granted to Robert E. Gordenier in 1950 and 1951. Gordenier invented both products for the Brown & Bigelow company, a distributor of branded office products throughout the United States beginning in 1896. The Roll-O-Dex itself was manufactured by Keymatic, a division of Brown & Bigelow.
This Roll-O-Dex is part of a collection of objects and archival materials on the Doolin family and the Frito Company donated by Kaleta Doolin, the daughter of C.E. Doolin. See Frito Company Records, 1924-1961, #1263, NMAH Archives Center.
C.E. Doolin launched “Fritos” in 1932, inspired by a recipe he had purchased from Gustavo Olguin, a Mexican-American restaurant owner in San Antonio, where Doolin had worked as a fry cook. Olguin’s “fritos” (the name came from the Spanish word frit, meaning fried) were small fried corn chips made from masa dough. Doolin bought the recipe, Olguin’s hand-operated potato ricer, and nineteen customer accounts for the snack, all for $100. He then patented his own device for extruding the masa dough through a cutter, which produced ribbon-like strips that were then fried in hot oil. Doolin marketed the chips as an ingredient in recipes, many of which were inspired by his mother Daisy Dean Stephenson Doolin’s dishes for entertaining. The chips were used in both sweet and savory preparations, including as crust for fruitcakes, breading for salmon croquettes, and garnish for tuna salad.
In 1945 Doolin connected with Herman Lay, famous for automating the manufacturing process of potato chips and the head of H.W. Lay & Co. Lay took on the nationwide distribution of Fritos at this time. Doolin passed away in 1959, and in 1961 The Frito Company officially merged with H.W. Lay & Co. to become Frito-Lay. Frito-Lay went on to develop more products (including the wildly popular snack foods Cheetos and Doritos) and become the largest snack conglomerate in the world. Initially promoted as an ingredient in foods for entertaining, Fritos were advertised mostly to children, both in print and television campaigns and via cartoon characters such as the cowboy-inspired “Frito Kid.”
Fritos were most successful as a standalone snack. Following the success of the commercial potato chip in the 1930s, there was a growing market for other salty snacks and pre-packaged foods to be eaten on the go and in-between meals. The creation of “snack time” as a new type of American meal helped bolster the popularity of Doolin’s invention. The packaging of these snacks would also prove revolutionary—before 1900, snack foods and sweets were sold in small paper bags and portioned out by the grocer or shop owner. As manufacturers experimented with cans and glassine bags and materials such as wax paper and cellophane, they found new ways to keep food fresh and vacuum-packed until the customer opened it. Over the second half of the twentieth century, snack foods would develop into a $22 billion dollar industry.