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FAQ, Trivia and Information on Life in America: Ask-A-Desi

This section will attempt to address some of the Frequently Asked Questions on Life in the US, Canada and North America that immigrants, visitors and others from different cultures attempt to address. If you have any additional inputs or wish  to see more topics addressed, mail us at

In this section, we present some trivia on Retail and consumerism in the U.S. including Vending Machine Fundas, the discovery of Potato Chips, the Story of The Teddy Bear and Grocery Coupon's Cash Value

Retail Trivia

Vending Machine 'Fundas'

On the occasion of 'Let us know US' completing 50 topics, here is some lighter vein, mouth-watering stuff for you.

Read at your leisure, perhaps with a pack of potato chips in hand...

Anatomy of a Vending Machine
Snacks piled up in Vending Machine!

Why are the Potato chips always placed above the Candy and Gum in Vending Machines?

Simple answer: The spirals that hold the salty snacks at the top of machines are wide and can thus hold products that are thicker, like chips and pretzels packets. The spirals on the bottom are narrower and more appropriate for less bulky items, like chocolate candy and gum.

Can’t the spirals be interchanged? Yes, they can be, still the traditional position is followed everywhere. But why? The potato chips are the highest profit products in the machine, so putting them at eye level helps generate even more sales! Bags of potato chips or corn chips tend to flop forward on the spirals, so placing them at eye level assures the vendor that the consumer will not miss them. Okay, that’s the commercial reason.

Now some physics theory. Because heavier items fall straight down, vending machine snacks are designed so that cookies, candy, gum, and other heavy items fall the least distance to avoid breakage. The chips packets don’t fall straight down but tend to hit the glass front of the machine, which further decreases speed!

Perfect Reason: If you purchase chips and a candy bar at the same time, it is better that the candy drops first and the chips then fall on top of the candy. This is because the chips are less likely to break or damage candy, whereas if the candy falls on the chips the bag could break!!

Trivia: The first vending machines in the United States dispensed chewing gum, and were installed in New York City train platforms in 1888.

Potato Chips - Snack of the Nation!

Can you believe this? An act of nastiness led to the invention of one of the most popular snack foods of all time, America's national snack. Potato chips resulted from a cook's moment of anger!

Potato Chips Poetry! Yummy Yummy Chips
Snack Pack

The Anger Story

Potato chip was invented in 1853 by George Crum, who was head chef at Moon's Lake House, a resort in Saratoga Springs, New York. On that fateful day, a customer boldly complained that Crum's French fries were "too thick and soggy" and "not salty enough." The angered cook set out to wreak some culinary vengeance. He sliced potatoes paper-thin, fried them to a singed crisped brown, salted the living daylights out of them, and dumped them in front of the hard-to-please diner.

The customer tried one, smiled, then helped himself to the rest of them. Thus were born Saratoga Chips, as Crum's unintended invention came to be called.

Saratoga chips remained a local delicacy until the Prohibition era, when an enterprising salesman named Herman Lay popularized the product throughout the Southeast. The whispered assertions that potato chips were an aphrodisiac did not diminish his sales.

Even true stories always leave room for 'versions', and this one is no exception. According to the lore that has sprung up around this tale, the hard-to-please customer in Saratoga Springs was none other than railroad magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Not true. The first fellow to taste a potato chip was just an ordinary guy off the street who chose the wrong (right?) day to piss off the cook.

Fact: Americans reportedly eat an average of six pounds of potato chips per person each year.

Story of The Teddy Bear

"Teddy Bear" the World-famous toy is named after a US President - Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt.

Catch and cuddle me, if you can! President Theodore Roosevelt

In November 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt and some of his friends went on a hunting trip to Mississippi. After hours of searching, Roosevelt and his group had not come across any wild animals. Finally, the group did track down and surrounded a helpless bear. One of the guides asked the President to shoot the bear so he could win a hunting trophy. The President refused, and news reporters throughout the country spread the story of Roosevelt's kind act. The event was the subject of a cartoon by Clifford Berryman of the Washington Post with a caption 'Drawing the Line in Mississippi'

Cartoon in Washington Post

The cartoon was seen by husband and wife shop owners, Morris and Rose Michtom. Originally they were from Germany but they owned a toys and novelty store in Brooklyn, New York. 

Inspired by the cartoon Mrs.Michtom made a toy bear and displayed it in the shop window. The bear proved enormously popular with the public.

Morris wrote to Roosevelt requesting permission to name the bear "Teddy" after the President and he got the permission!

Thus was born one of the largest selling toys. Nowadays, everyone knows these toys as Teddy Bears, but very few people know that they were named after President Theodore “"Teddy"” Roosevelt. From now, you and I are among those blessed few !!!

Grocery Coupon's Cash Value

Why is it that Grocery coupons have a cash value of 1/100th of a cent?

History of Grocery Coupons

Those were the days of depression, say around 1937. Food items were distributed as ration. Books of Stamps (like coupons) were issued to citizens. Some merchants were smart. They claimed that their books of stamps were worth much more than they really were. They would then sell merchandise through catalogues at greatly inflated prices.

Cash Value 1/100th of a Cent.

This caused problems. Because both the cash value and redemption prices (in stamps) were greatly inflated, honest stamp issuers were at a competitive disadvantage, because their own books of stamps didn’t seem to be worth much in buying power compared to others.

Cash Value 1/100th of a Cent.

Several states tried to eliminate these injustices by making all books of stamps – and anything of value that might be used to reduce the price of a product, have a common value. Grocery coupons fell into this category. Kansas State enacted most stringent law. Kansas law overrides the terms and conditions of the coupon for residents of the state and says that if no cash value is stated on the coupon, the consumer may cash in the coupon of face value. (That means, a 50 cents coupon for Tide detergent liquid can be encashed in Kansas for 50 cents if no cash-value is printed on it).

Manufacturers had two choices: make separate coupons for Kansas, or print a cash value on every coupon. Do folks really try to redeem coupons for the lofty sum of 1/100th of a cent? Hmmm… I don’t think anybody will do that.



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Trivia and Questions for Indians and Immigrants in America

General Trivia : Introduction //Dollars and Cents // Social Security Number // About Mail and USPS // Story of The Old Glory // Green Card– Why Not Green? // Telephone Area Codes // Convex Mirrors and Caution // Bankruptcy and Chapter 11 // Radio and TV Broadcasting // Consumerism: Trivia on Wal-Mart. // Retail Trivia // Gas Prices– What's 0.9 Cent? // Roads and Interstate Highways // Road Driving Trivia // Finance 101 // Daylight Saving Time // Trivia on Etiquette

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