J. R. Simplot is a quintessential example of the American success story. He was born in Iowa and grew up in a log cabin with a sod roof. He dropped out of school at 14, went to work for himself, and seized every opportunity to create more wealth. When he died in 2008, he was the 89th richest American, worth over $3 billion and the owner of the most deeded land in the United States.
At age 14, he founded the Simplot company in Idaho with one simple potato-sorter. He quickly grew from the local boy who sorted potatoes to the young tycoon who had an empire. Eventually, he hired the food researcher, Ray Dunlap, that convinced Simplot he could make the first commercially viable frozen french fry. When he made a handshake deal with Ray Kroc, Simplot potatoes became a vital part of the new McDonald's empire.
Simplot did not rest on his potato business. He later developed businesses to sell fertilizer, oil, animal feed, cattle, and other agricultural products. Then he began developing ski resorts around the world. He invested the key capital that helped Micron Technologies (makers of the computer memory that has powered the Internet revolution) get off the ground.
Like many other capitalist heroes and unique American success stories, Simplot had always been known for his no-nonsense, down-to-earth attitude and his eye for a good investment.
Wikipedia entry on J.R. Simplot
Interview in Esquire
Obituary in Idaho Statesman
Obituary in New York Times