Arch West, the Frito (later Frito-Lay) marketing executive credited with the product’s creation, died in 2011 and was buried with a layer of his tasty legacy sprinkled over his ashes. The Dorito legend varies: one version has it that West discovered tasty tortilla chips at a roadside stand and decided to bring them into American homes.
Another version of the story is that the Doritos brand was born at Disneyland. According to the book Taco USA, (excerpted here in the Orange County Register) one of the signature snacks of American excess came into existence in order to use up some stale food. See, a local tortilla company delivered to several restaurants at the park, including the Casa de Fritos. Instead of tossing out stale tortillas, a salesman asked a Casa de Fritos cook to fry them up and make chips out of them. These caught on with guests, but the corporate overlords–by then, the merged Frito-Lay–didn’t know anything about it.
Not until Mr. West visited the restaurant, saw guests eating the chips, and saw something different. They weren’t just a way to use up stale tortillas: they could become triangular snack gold. Frito-Lay hired that tortilla vendor, Alex Foods, to manufacture chips for national sale.
Their name, from the very beginning? Doritos, or “little golden things” in Spanish.
Frito-Lay stopped subcontracting to Alex Foods and produced Doritos in its own plants. Alex Foods went on to create its own brand of tortilla chips, because the world really can never have too many tortilla chips.
The very first Doritos were sort of plain-flavored. American consumers found the chips kind of plain without sauce, so Frito-Lay gave them a sort of Mexican seasoning called “Taco” in 1968. What we think of as the “original” flavor, nacho cheese, debuted in 1974. In the last 50 years, there have been more than 100 different varieties of Doritos.
Here’s the oldest Dorito TV ad we could find on YouTube: a 1975 spot emphasizing the chips’ crunchiness.
How Doritos Were Born At Disneyland [Orange County Register]