Who Invented Funyuns? (Invention Timeline Explained)

Fried (or baked) packaged snack foods are so popular and addictive. Most people have tasted chips and crisps at least once in their lifetime. The ingredients in these crunchy and flavorful treats vary, from wheat to corn and cornmeal. The range of flavors is extensive, from mild and natural (salt and pepper) to cheese, vinegar, sour cream, chili, barbecue, onion, garlic, milk, fruits, and more. Consumers’ tastes vary; thus, some snack variants with various flavors are discontinued after some time when there is low demand.

Historically, corn chips (tortilla chips) have been around since ancient times because maize was a mainstay in the diets of ancient civilizations. Potatoes reached Europe in the 1600s, and French restaurants served fried potatoes in the 1700s. In New York, a hotel in Saratoga Springs served potato chips in 1853. Eventually, they sold potato chips in bags. Before long, C.E. Doolin bought a recipe for cornmeal chips, met Herman Lay, who was selling potato chips, and the rest is history. Learn how your favorite snacks, such as Funyuns, Doritos, Cheetos, and Fritos, developed through the years right here.

Who invented Funyuns?

Funyuns is a packaged snack invention of a Frito-Lay employee named George Bigner. Frito-Lay is a U.S.-based company, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, and a manufacturer, marketer, and seller of potato chips, corn chips, and other packaged snack foods.

Funyuns’ key contributors (and evolution)

  • Gustavo Olguin 
    The original creator of corn chips

    Gustavo Olguin was a Mexican immigrant who used to work as a cook at a restaurant in Texas. He invented a recipe for crunchy corn chips, which he sold at his cafe in San Antonio. He called his creation ”frita,” which means, ”fried” in English. Olguin wanted to return to Mexico and sold his recipe, an adapted potato ricer, and his 19 retail accounts to C.E. Doolin for $100. 

  • Charles Elmer Doolin
    Entrepreneur, inventor, farmer

    Charles Elmer Doolin saw the ad placed by Gustavo Olguin and got interested because he wanted to have new products to sell. He went to Olguin’s cafe, bought a bag of chips, and liked its taste. So he bought the original recipe, the adapted potato ricer, and Olguin’s 19 clients. He later registered the brand as “Fritos,” which is easier for English speakers to pronounce. 

  • Highland Park Confectionary
    First production plant

    The Doolin family owned the Highland Park Confectionary, which produced ice cream and other products. Since their production of corn chips became too big for Doolin’s mother’s kitchen to handle, they moved their production to the confectionary. 

  • Frito Corporation 
    Original company for snack foods

    Doolin formed the Frito Corporation to produce and sell Fritos. In 1932. C. E. Doolin’s father, Charles Bernard, was a mechanical engineer, and they developed the machine that produced the chips from the cornmeal masa (corn dough). C.E. Doolin applied for a patent for their ”hammer press” that could mass-produce the corn chips in 1933. 

  • W.H. Lay & Co.

    The Frito Corporation and W.H. Lay & Co., famous for its automatic machines that produced potato chips, merged for formed Frito-Lay. The merger paid huge dividends as they soon became the world’s largest snack company, which developed more products such as Fritos, Doritos, Cheetos, and Funyuns.

When was Funyuns invented?

According to records, George Bigner invented Funyuns, the onion-flavored cornmeal-based snack sometime in 1969.

A brief history of Funyuns

Frito-Lay, one of the world’s largest snack food manufacturing companies, was a result of the merger of Frito Co. and W.H. Lay & Co. in 1961. The merger resulted in various products that expanded the market considerably. But the Frito Co. began in C.E. Doolin’s mother’s kitchen, where he and his family first produced the fried corn chips from the original recipe Doolin bought from a Mexican immigrant in 1932. When the demand for the fried chips, which they named ”Fritos,” increased, they moved their production to the family-owned Highland Park Confectionary. Soon after, with the increased demand, Doolin formed the Frito Co., manufacturing Fritos and other snacks. The enterprising Doolin was always looking for ways to diversify his family’s various companies and products. 

In 1945, Doolin met with Herman Lay, who became the distributor of Fritos nationwide. Doolin’s many efforts and innovations produced massive results, resulting in five manufacturing plants, franchises, and offices across the U.S. by 1947. Aside from Fritos, they had peanut butter crackers, fried pork skins, potato chips, and roasted peanuts. Doolin publicly traded the Frito Company in 1953. By 1959, the company employed 3,500 people and had annual sales of $60 million. 

Unfortunately, Doolin died in 1959. However, Frito Company’s association with W.H. Lay & Co. continued, resulting in their merger in 1961. As Frito-Lay, the company developed more products that immediately became popular, such as Cheetos and Doritos, while they skewed Fritos to the younger market. 

The company followed the enterprising spirit of C. E. Doolin and his continuous quest for innovation and diversification. He also treated his employees as family, which made his workers care for the company more. In 1969, an employee invented another product to add to the company’s popular snack brands – Funyuns. The employee, George Bigner, created an extruded snack from cornmeal, shaped like onion rings, flavored with salt and onion powder. At the pandemic’s height, a shortage of Frito-Lay’s snack foods occurred. As a result, the company promised to spend more than $200 million to expand its manufacturing facilities in Texas to increase the production of Funyuns and other products.

Funyuns timeline

  1. 1929-1939
    Great Depression 

    The Great Depression hit the U.S. early in the 1920s. Gustavo Olguin, a Mexican immigrant, used to work as a cook at a restaurant in San Antonio, Texas. He later opened a small cafe to sell his homemade fritas (fried corn chips) using his original recipe. 

  2. 1932
    A cheap business deal

    Gustavo Olguin placed an ad selling his original recipe, an adapted potato ricer, and his 19 retail customers. Charles Elmer Doolin paid $100 for what Olguin was selling. Doolin started producing the chips he named Fritos from their kitchen. They also formed the Frito Company and applied for a patent for their “hammer press” in 1933.

  3. 1947
    Instant hit

    The Frito Corporation moved to the Doolin’s Highland Park Confectionary because production increased. By 1947, they had five manufacturing plants, offices, and franchises across the U.S. They also added more snacks to their product line, most of them using Doolin’s special corn variety grown on their commissioned farms. 

  4. 1961

    Frito Co. merged with W.H. Lay & Co., a company known for its automated potato chip processing facilities. The merger resulted in the formation of the Frito-Lay Co. They produced more processed snack foods that became a hit in the U.S. and overseas markets. 

  5. 1969
    New snack invention

    George Bigner, a Frito-Lay employee, invented a new product, which became the onion ring-shaped crunchy cornmeal snack they named Funyuns. The new snack is flavored with salt and onion powder sprinkled on the onion rings during the last steps in the manufacturing process.

Where was the Funyuns invented?

Funyuns was invented at the Frito-Lays plant in Texas, with the use of an extrusion process that simulated the texture and shape of fried onion rings.

Why people love Funyuns

  • (Almost) gluten-free

    Frito-Lay uses cornmeal, not wheat flour, to produce Funyuns. It contains low saturated fat, zero trans fat, and zero cholesterol. However, Funyuns cannot claim it is gluten-free because it is processed in machines that are also used to process gluten-containing products. 

  • Brings back childhood memories

    Many older consumers love Funyuns because the snack food brings back happy memories of their childhood when most things are simple yet fun. 

  • Flavorful

    Funyuns tastes great with the right combination of salt and onion flavors. It has the right touch of saltiness and sweetness. The onion rings are crunchy, too.

  • Enjoyable even if you hate onions

    Funyuns lets you enjoy the flavor of onions even if you hate real onions in your food.

  • Tastes good

    Funyuns lovers do not give any other reason why they love it. For them, Funyuns simply tastes good, satisfying their craving for a quick and tasty snack.

Funyuns by the numbers

  • 2This represents the number of servings contained in one 1.875 ounce bag of Funyuns. 
  • 13On average, you are going to get 13 pieces of onion rings in one full serving of Funyuns. On the other hand, a Party size bag (9.25 oz.) contains approximately 120 onion rings.
  • 53Funyuns has been satisfying the customers’ cravings from fried onion-flavored snacks for 53 years. It was introduced to the market in 1969.
  • 2.02The number of Americans who consumed eight or more bags of Funyuns in 2020 was 2.02 million.
  • 200Frito-Lay announced it would invest $200 million to expand its manufacturing plants in Texas to increase the production of Funyuns and other products lines. The market suffered a shortage of Funyuns and other snacks during the height of the pandemic. 

Five facts about Funyuns

  • Funyuns

    The brand name previously given to Funyuns was OnYums. However, Rudolph Foods owns the copyright for the name. University of Texas professor and copywriter Jim Albright gave it the name Funyuns, which was a play on the words ”fun” and ”onions”.

  • Various flavors

    Funyuns used to have five different flavors: Original, Wasabi, Flamin’ Hot, Chili and Limón, and Steakhouse Onion. Frito-Lay discontinued three flavors. So, as of 2021, you can only buy the Original and Flamin’ Hot flavors.

  • Regional name

    Funyuns is widely available in Brazil. However, if you happen to be in Brazil, do not look for the snack by its American name. Instead, look for Cebolitos, the local name of the onion-flavored snack. 

  • Fave snack in TV series

    Funyuns is featured in the American TV series “Breaking Bad” as the favorite snack of Jesse Pinkman, played by actor Aaron Paul. Funyuns is likewise the favorite snack of TV character Marshall Eriksen, played by Jason Segel in “How I Met Your Mother”.

  • Product window

    The Funyuns chip bags used to feature a “window” so consumers can see the onion rings inside pack. But in 2005, the window was replaced by product photograph, to conform to the bag design of all Frito-Lay products.

FAQs about Funyuns

  • How do they make Funyuns?

    During the manufacturing process, the cornmeal and water dough is kneaded and forced through a specially-designed extruder machine that turns the dough into the shape of onion rings. Next, the rings are fried and sprinkled with onion and salt-flavored seasoning.

  • Can you give Funyuns to your dog?

    Funyuns and other processed snacks are not suitable for the dog’s health. Onions and garlic in any form are toxic to dogs.

  • Do Funyuns contain real onions?

    While the product is in the shape of onion rings, it does not have real onions. Instead, a mix of onion powder and salt gives Funyuns its unique onion flavor.

  • Is Funyuns vegan?

    Funyuns has limited flavoring additives and is cooked without oil. However, it is not vegan safe because it contains buttermilk.

  • Do Funyuns have other flavors?

    The Funyuns available in the U.S. and several other countries are Original and Flamin’ Hot. But the Frito-Lay branch in Japan produces a special edition of Funyuns to welcome spring and the Sakura season. They offer the Sakura Shrimp-flavored Funyuns for a limited time. The packaging changes to pink with images of cherry blossoms.

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