User:Sandstein/Drafts/History of the hamburger

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The hamburger, a sandwich consisting of a ground beef patty served on a white bun,[1] was invented in the United States in the late 19th century. It was originally made with – and takes its name from – hamburg steak, a minced beef dish named after the city of Hamburg, Germany. Various conflicting claims exist about who served the first hamburgers, but none is backed up by compelling evidence.

As a fast food staple, the hamburger was perfected and popularized by the White castle restaurant chain in 1926. Subsequently, the hamburger became ubiquitously available in the U.S. and abroad through restaurant chains such as McDonald's and Burger King. It became a global icon of American culture and of the United States in general,[2] representing "its soullessness, its conformity, its vulgarity" to some[3]

Because the hamburger is understood to consist of a beef patty served on a bun, the history of the numerous other dishes involving ground beef and some other kind of bread (such as meatball, meatloaf or hamburg steak sandwich, patty melts or Frikadellen) is not covered in this article.[4] Likewise, the story about the Huns tenderizing meat under the saddle of their horses, often repeated in popular hamburger lore, does not relate meaningfully to the history of the modern hamburger.[1]


Food historian Joshua Ozersky calls the following English recipe of 1763 "a barely recognizable progenitor" of the hamburger:[5]

Take a pound of Beef, mince it very small, with half a Pound of the best Suet; then mix three Quarters of a Pound of Suet cut in large Pieces; [numerous spices follow] mix all these very well together, then take the largest Gut you can find, stuff it very tight; then hang it up a Chimney, and smoke it with Saw-dust for a Week or ten Days; hang them in the Air, till they are dry, and they will keep a Year. They are very good boiled in Peas Porridge, and roasted with toasted Bread under it, or in an Amlet.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, ground beef otherwise appeared only as variations on the theme of meatloaf, served with gravy and not on bread.[6] Most 19th century cookbooks contained a variation of hamburg steak, a dish named after the city of Hamburg, Germany, where beef was commonly served minced or chopped (and to some extent still is).[6] That dish was supposed to have been derived from the Russian steak tartare.[6]

In the course of German immigration to the United States, hamburg steak was introduced to America, where it acquired its name and soon became popular as the cheapest beef dish.[7] It is documented on Delmonico's first printed menu of 1837.[8]

The first hamburgers[edit]

According to Ozersky, the various claims to inventing the hamburger (that is, hamburg steak on a bun) are "all equally worthless, historically speaking", because "none can produce any real evidence."[9] They include the following:

A fast food staple[edit]

White Castle[edit]

The hamburger in its recognizably modern form – a mass-produced, standardized, fast food patty on a bun – is the brainchild of Edgar Waldo Ingram and Walter Anderson, the founders of the White Castle restaurant chain. His "Hot Hamburger" newsletter of 1923 proclaimed that "the day of the dirty, greasy hamburger is past. No more shall we be privileged to taste the hamburger at the circuses and carnivals only, for a new system has arisen, the ‘White Castle System.’".

White Castle was a success thanks to the marketing genius of Ingram, who promoted the business with "full-throated propaganda" of an "ebullient, radiant, unsprung crassness",[14] He succeeded in making hamburgers, then a product associated with food stands of questionable repute, more widely acceptable. To convince women of their wholesomeness,[15] he promoted serving them as tea sandwiches and sponsored an experiment in which a man was kept on a diet of hamburgers and water for thirteen weeks (according to Ingram, the man maintained excellent health and a good appetite).[16] The standardized, squeaky-clean layout of the restaurants signaled purity and cleanliness while their pseudo-Gothic architecture represented stability, as did the very name "White Castle".[17] Ingram rationalized and standardized every aspect of the hamburger business, from the food to the buildings (made of exactly 149 prefabricated pieces of steel).[18]

But the core of White Castle's business were the the culinary innovations of Anderson, which are now common practice in hamburger production. They included cooking burgers on a very hot grill so that they would be brown on the outside and juicy inside, pressing the patties flat with a custom spatula (the original is preserved by the Ohio State Historical Society) and putting onions next to the burgers on the grill to flavor them with meat juices.[19] But most importantly, Anderson was the first to use specially designed buns instead of sliced bread, buns whose size matched that of the patties and whose dense, golden outside crust prevented juices from seeping through.[16]


  • Ozersky, Josh (2008). The Hamburger: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300117585. 


  1. ^ a b Ozersky, 5
  2. ^ Ozersky, 2
  3. ^ Ozersky, 3
  4. ^ Following the approach of Ozersky, 18.
  5. ^ Ozersky, 6
  6. ^ a b c Ozersky, 7
  7. ^ Ozersky, 14
  8. ^ Ozersky, 8
  9. ^ a b Ozersky, 15
  10. ^ Ozersky, 16
  11. ^ Ozersky, 20
  12. ^ Ozersky, 18
  13. ^ Ozersky, 17
  14. ^ Ozersky, 23
  15. ^ Ozersky, 32
  16. ^ a b Ozersky, 31
  17. ^ Ozersky, 33
  18. ^ Ozersky, 36
  19. ^ Ozersky, 26