by Janet Spencer

Idaho has so much more than potatoes, so come along with Tidbits as we visit Idaho!


George Willing was a physician in the mid-1800s when he got caught up in the gold rush, ending up at Pike’s Peak in what is now Colorado. He ran for office but lost and became a lobbyist instead. When it came time to choose a name for the region, Willing lobbied hard for “Idaho” claiming it was an Indian term meaning “gem of the mountains.” When it later came out that he made up the word, supposedly because he knew a girl named Ida, the new state was named Colorado instead.

• Still, a riverboat owner liked the word Idaho and named his steamship after it. The ship carried settlers up the Columbia River. When gold was discovered on the Clearwater River nearby in 1860, people began referring to the area as “the Idaho mines.” When the region became a territory in 1863, the name stuck, and it became the state’s name in 1890.

Hocking County Veterans Service Commission

• Still, the myth that Idaho was an Indian word persisted. When researchers asked members of various Indian tribes in the area, including Nez Perce, Shoshone, Arapaho, and Yakima, for any phrase that sounded even vaguely like “Idaho” they all drew a blank.


The world’s largest potato was not grown in Idaho. That honor goes to gardener Peter Glazebrook of the U.K. who grew a 10 lb. 14 oz. (5 kg) spud in 2011 which is about 3 lbs heavier than a newborn baby. However, Idaho boasts a couple of large, unique potatoes.   

• The Idaho Potato Commission wanted to celebrate the 75th anniversary of their organization in 2012 by spreading the word about the health benefits of potatoes. So they built a 12,000-lb (5,443 kg) fiberglass potato, mounted on a semi-truck, and sent it on tour. The potato team handed out literature, gave speeches, and did interviews at parades, county fairs, and store openings throughout the country.

• Though the tour was supposed to last just one year, it was so successful that The Big Potato Truck continues to tour today. If the Big Potato were real, it would be equal in size to about 20,000 medium-sized potatoes; would weigh about 800 times more than Peter Glazebrook’s big spud; and would make about 1 million French fries.

• Alas, the original Big Potato began to wear out after seven years on tour. It was replaced by a new Big Potato, but what should be done with the old Big Potato? The problem was solved when Kristie Wolfe, who toured with the potato for two years, bought it. She planted it permanently on some acreage she owned near Boise, and turned it into the potato hotel. The hollow interior of the potato measures 28 feet long, 12 feet wide, 11.5 feet tall (8.5 x 3.6 m) and offered 336 square feet to work with. Wolfe constructed a comfortable bedroom and added electricity, heat, air-conditioning, and an indoor fireplace. A full bathroom including a Jacuzzi is located in a converted grain silo nearby. Renters can spend a night in the big spud for only $200 per night. (cont)


The third-place winner for the world’s largest potato would be the 400-lb 17-foot (181 kg, 5m) GlowTato. This polystyrene resin potato is painted to resemble a potato, stuffed with LED lights inside, and raised high in the air by a crane in downtown Boise every New Year’s Eve. At the stroke of midnight, the GlowTato slowly drops down over the heads of the cheering crowds below, just like the ball drops in Times Square in New York City. There’s music and dancing, food and games, fireworks and fun.

Why Is It Called “The Gem State”?

There are 72 kinds of gems found in Idaho, along with 240 types of minerals. The only region with a greater variety of gems is Africa. The Idaho state gemstone is the star garnet, named for the four- or six-point rays that spread out like a star when the stone is properly cut and polished. Idaho is one of only two places in the world where star garnets can be found; the other is in India. Anyone can mine their own star garnets at the Emerald Creek Garnet Area, taking up to 2 pounds (1 kg) of garnet material daily.

• The word “garnet” comes from the Middle English “gernet” meaning “dark red” which is also the root of the word “pomegranate.”


A rumor states that it is illegal to fish from the back of a camel in Idaho. What the law actually says is that it is illegal to fish while astride any animal. The ruling referred to a horse, and the reason for the restriction is that any hooved animal that lingers for long on a riverbank tramples the delicate riparian zone. Because the law only said “animals,” some jokester interpreted that to mean it’s against the law to fish from the back of a camel, though it is equally illegal to fish from the back of an elephant, ostrich, kangaroo, hippo, giraffe, or rhinoceros. (cont)


The winter of 1947-48 was rough in Idaho, leaving the citizens of Pocatello miserable. Mayor George Phillips passed a tongue-in-cheek ordinance stating it was illegal not to smile, in an effort to cheer citizens up. The regulation was supposed to last one week, but no one ever took it off the books.

• 40 years later, a reporter found the law still in the records and wrote about it. At the time, the American Bankers Association was trying to get outdated banking laws updated. They pressured Congress by pointing out ridiculous old laws that had never been repealed. This “Smile Ordinance” became central to their campaign, receiving national attention. Pocatello enjoyed the attention and became the “Smile Capital” of the world. The law remains in place, but is never enforced.

• Island Park, Idaho, claims to have “the longest Main Street in America.” At 33 miles long (53 km), you’d think that Island Park would be a huge metropolis. Yet, the town has fewer than 300 residents. The city limit, while being 33 miles long, is only an average of 500 feet (152 m) wide. Main Street is the only street in town, and there are long stretches of Main Street where there’s nothing but sagebrush and tumbleweed.

• Why such a long, skinny, sparsely inhabited town? Because state regulations prohibited the sale of liquor outside city limits. The highway that runs through the middle of town is near Yellowstone National Park, drawing many tourists. Various resorts, lodges, and restaurants popped up along the highway, separated by long segments of empty land. The business owners wanted to serve liquor at their establishments, but could only do so if they were inside city limits. Therefore, in 1947, city planners drew the city limits that included as many businesses as possible, resulting in “The Longest Main Street In America.”