Every Sunday, Fortune magazine publishes a favorite story from its archives. This week, Fortune look back at the wild and wooly tale of billionaire J.R. Simplot and the Idaho chip manufacturer he backed, Micron Technology. This inspiring story was originally published in 1995.
As with any megafortune, John Richard (J.R.) Simplot's wealth was built from a few simple but revolutionary ideas, much sweat, and a generous glossing of luck. The details of his experience, however, are singular in the extreme.
To begin with, Simplot is really the last man to have hewed a great fortune from the preindustrial West: Starting in the 1920s in southern Idaho's Snake River basin, he built a potato-based agricultural empire that, among other things, supplies McDonald's with more than 50% of its French fries.