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A Brief History of Hamburgers

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Photo by Thomas Hawk

In 2012, the hamburger is prominently woven in the fabric of our day-to-day lives. Whether it be in your local family restaurant, your fast food favorites, or your higher end sit-down establishment, the hamburger has a place everywhere. It wasn’t always so. When looking at the history of the hamburger, a few key dates defined its role in modern society.

1836 – Can’t Have a Hamburger Steak Without Hamburger

1836 brought the first appearance of hamburger steak on a menu, at Delmonico’s in New York. Many consider the hamburger steak to be the ancestor to the modern-day hamburger. Burger purists may not want to accept that assertion since it’s missing a bun, but we can’t deny that, much like everything, the hamburger had to evolve from something.

1900 – The Hamburger Revolution Begins in New Haven

Photo by kaszeta

The Louis’ Lunch hamburger is not like anything we have today. As an early incarnation of the burger, Louis’ version does not have the common bun we’re so used to. Rather, the patty was sandwiched between regular slices of toasted white bread. While it might not resemble what we have today, all burger lovers owe a debt of gratitude to Louis’ Lunch.

1921 – Billy and Walter go to White Castle

White Castle Burgers

Photo by Morton Fox

When you think of White Castle, you’re probably zoning in on Harold and Kumar and their trek to the famous establishment. Owner Billy Ingram and cook Walter Anderson probably could never have imagined that publicity. White Castle is often credited with inventing what we know as the modern-day hamburger, made with ground meat placed on a griddle with onions, then placed between a soft yeast bun. When it opened in Wichita, Kansas, White Castle sold their iconic burgers for only five cents.

1924 – Enter the Cheeseburger

When we think of a hamburger these days, we don’t usually picture it without its best friend, cheese. In 1924, a man by the very suitable name of Lionel Sternberger, put cheese in a burger at his Pasadena restaurant. We can only imagine what major restaurants would try to put in its place if they didn’t have cheese.

Photo by FishRuan

1954 – A Fast Food Idea That Wasn’t a Kroc

The Golden Arches is a symbol more recognizable than most other corporate logos around the world. Ray Kroc opened his first McDonald’s location in San Bernandino, California, which revolutionized the world of fast food. Like it or not, burgers would not be the way they are today without McDonald’s.

1982 – An Equal-Opportunity Hamburger For All

In London, a jack-of-all-trades by the name of Gregory Sams created what he called the VegeBurger. For a long time, the hamburger had been something for the carnivore to eat. Sams’s invention allowed our friends, the vegetarians, to join in on the parade.

1984 – Where’s the Beef?

Picture this, a old woman walks up to your counter and asks that resonating question, “Where’s the beef?” In what made burger advertising more prominent, this commercial put Wendy’s on the map. More importantly, it was the first shot fired when it came to questioning the burger giants and the quality of their products.

2004 – Is That the Biggest Size You Got?

Morgan Spurlock’s released his eye-opening documentary Supersize Me in 2004. It’s the movie that forced many of us to give up on fast food establishments and seek out better, healthier burger options. The film demonstrates how fast food companies, led by McDonald’s, have contributed to North America’s growing obesity problems. It’s a little sad to see how much of a negative impact the hamburger has had on society, but in the end, it’s hard to hate this ever-present and delicious creation.

Sources: The Hamburger Through Time, Hamburger History

  • wordguy

    Ray Kroc did not open the first McDonald’s in San Bernardino, CA in 1954. It was a single burger shop run by Dick and Mac McDonald. Ray Kroc was a Chicago-based milkshake machine salesmen who discovered the California eatery and bought franchise rights from the McDonald brothers. Kroc opened the first McDonald’s franchise in Des Plaines, Illinois, in 1955, and eventually bought out the brothers altogether.

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Mr. Lew is a high school teacher from Montreal, Quebec. In 2009, after trying Montreal's supposed best burger, he decided to see what else was out there. So, every week, a new burger was added to the Great Burger Search. Since then, Mr. Lew has tried more than 100 burgers in cities across Canada, and hopes to one day expand to the rest of North America. Since Mr. Lew is part Chinese, the search isn't limited only to great burgers, but to other types of cuisine that makes Montreal one of the greatest culinary cities in the world.