In 1955, not long after Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California, the Frito-Lay snack company opened "Casa de Fritos," a Mexican-style restaurant in Disneyland's Frontierland. Casa de Fritos got its tortillas from Alex Foods, a local tortilla factory.
One day, a salesman from Alex Foods noticed that Casa de Fritos was dumping stale tortillas in the trash. He gave the kitchen a tip: instead of trashing the stale tortillas, cut them up and fry them.
Some time later, Archibald Clark West, a marketing executive for Frito-Lay, stops by Casa de Fritos and encounters the repurposed snack. He falls in love with them, contracts Alex Foods to produce them, and in 1964 the Dorito is born.
By 1966, Doritos rolled out nationally, and our Pavlovian love affair with cheese powder was born. By that time, Alex Foods was out of the game, and Doritos became a Frito-Lay production.
The brand was launched in 1966, the year after H.W. Lay's "Frito-Lay Company" (the maker of Fritos) merged with the Pepsi-Cola Company to form PepsiCo, Inc. Pepsi-Cola had hoped to use the merger to its advantage, since salty snacks and cold carbonated drinks fit naturally together; however, an Federal Trade Commission anti-trust lawsuit brought against Frito-Lay in 1963 stifled many of Pepsi's aspirations. For example, the FTC barred PepsiCo from creating cross-promotions between Frito products and Pepsi-brand beverages.
Nevertheless, Frito-Lay's new product — the triangular tortilla chips known as Doritos — took off, thanks to their being "more flavorful and crunchier" than any competing brand. In 1968, Doritos' star rose higher with the introduction of taco-flavored Doritos; and in 1972 came nacho cheese–flavored Doritos. (Cool Ranch Doritos would not be introduced until Frito-Lay's exuberant expansion in the late 1980s.)
As the triangular snack with the tangy crunch penetrated national markets, it gradually lost its ethnic, "Mexican" character, much as Frito-Lay's flagship Fritos had lost theirs over the preceding 40 years. (Around the same time, in 1971, Frito-Lay retired its cartoon mascot, the Tex Avery–animated "Frito Bandito".) This "blandishment" of the snack's image may have helped it gain traction outside the Southwest, where Frito-Lay had always been strongest. (Frito-Lay's headquarters were and still are located in Texas.) By 1985, Doritos were raking in sales of $500 million annually; by the end of the decade, they were being sold in 20 countries worldwide.
By 1993, Doritos were the #1 snack food in America, with annual sales of roughly $1.3 billion. Actress Ali Landry made a name for herself as the "Doritos Girl" in an acclaimed series of advertisements which debuted during the 1998, 1999, and 2000 Superbowls. More recently, Nacho Cheese Doritos sponsored satirist Stephen Colbert's abortive mock run for the Presidency. (According to Frito-Lay spokesman Jared Dougherty, Frito-Lay "has an ongoing relationship" with Viacom, the parent company of Comedy Central.) In April 2008, the Doritos brand sponsored a reality television series on MTV to promote its launch of Spicy Sweet Chili–flavored chips.
On June 12, 2008, Doritos launched the world's first "extraterrestrial" advertising campaign, broadcasting a 30-second spot via "high-powered radars" located at the Arctic Circle and operated by the European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association (EISCAT).