In The Beginning…
. .the Hamburger!
If you look back a few centuries, you might realize that the ancient Egyptians ate ground beef patties, and down through the ages ground meat has been shaped into patties and eaten all over the world under many different names. But exactly when and where the modern hamburger was created is much harder to pin down. Several folks over in the US – from New Haven, Connecticut, to Tulsa, Oklahoma – confidently claim their ancestors invented it.
As controversial as it is, the history of the hamburger is quite a story that has been conducted through the meat grinder. Legends say it began with the Mongols, who stashed scraps of beef, lamb or mutton under their saddles as they spanned the planet in their campaign to conquer the known world, much as McDonald’s has done in the past half century.
The softened meat was shaped into flat patties, and after enough time spent sandwiched between the asses of man and monster, the meat became tender enough to eat raw – surely a boon to swift-moving riders not eager to dismount.
When Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan, and his hordes invaded Moscow, they naturally brought their unique dietary ground meat with them. The Russians adopted it into their own cuisine with the title”Steak Tartare,” (Tartars being their name for the Mongols). Over several years, Russian chefs adapted and developed this dish and refined it by adding chopped onions and raw eggs.
Later, as international trade picked up, seafarers brought this idea back to the port city of Hamburg, Germany, in which the Deutschvolk decided to mold it with breadcrumbs to a steak shape and cook it, making something that, outside of Hamburg, was known as”Hamburg steak,” a dish now most popular now, in most places, Japan, where almost every menu lists it under Western fare as”steak cooked in the Hamburg style” or”hanbagu.”
But enough fishing in Asian and European waters; let’s cut bait here. Somehow ground beef gets to America. Somehow it is put on a bun. Sadly, it does not.
While some have written the first American hamburger (actually Hamburger Steak) was served in 1834 in Delmonico’s Restaurant, New York City, this oft-quoted source is not based on the original Delmonico menu but instead a facsimile, which was debunked; the published facsimile could not possibly be correct, as the printer of the supposed original menu was not even in business in 1834!
If a ground beef patty served between two pieces of bread is a hamburger, then credit goes to Charlie Nagreen of Seymour, Wisconsin, who, at age 15, sold hamburgers out of his ox-drawn food stand at the Outagamie County Fair. He went to the fair and set up a stand selling meatballs.
Business was not good and he immediately realised that it was since meatballs were too difficult to eat while strolling round the fair.
In a flash of invention, he flattened the meatballs, placed them between two pieces of bread and called his new creation a hamburger. He was known to many as “Hamburger Charlie.” He returned to sell hamburgers at the fair every year before his death in 1951, and he would entertain people with his guitar and mouth organ and this jingle:
“Hamburgers, hamburgers, hamburgers hot; onions in the middle, pickle on top. Makes your lips go flippity flop.”
Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut, claims to have devised our favorite meal. From its website:”One day in the year 1900 a man hurried to a little New Haven luncheonette and asked for a quick meal he could eat on the run. Louis Lassen, the establishment’s owner, hurriedly sandwiched a grilled beef patty between two slices of bread and delivered the customer on his way, so the story goes, with America’s first hamburger.”
This claim is countered by the family of Frank and Charles Menches from Akron, Ohio, who now operate a small chain called, unsurprisingly, Menches Bros., and assert that their great-grandfather Charles and his brother Frank invented the dish while travelling at a concession circuit in fairs, race meetings, and farmers’ picnics in the Midwest.
According to family legend, the brothers initially sold sausages but ran out and were forced to use ground beef, which at the time was believed déclassé. Faced with nothing to sell at all, they purchased some ground beef, and upon frying it up, found it too bland. Then they decided to place coffee, brown sugar, and a few other household ingredients in it and cooked up the sandwich. Frank did not really know what to call it, so when a gentleman asked him what it was, he looked up and saw the banner for the
Hamburg fair and said,”This is the hamburger.” In Frank’s 1951 obituary in The Los Angeles Times, he’s acknowledged as the”inventor” of the hamburger.
But some say a hamburger really isn’t a hamburger unless it’s on a bun. According to http://www.whatscookingamerica.net, Bilby’s burgers were served on Mrs. Bilby’s homemade yeast buns.
From all the research that has been done, it is likely that the hamburger sprang up independently in a lot of different places around the usa. Regardless of where it was devised, most folks agree that the hamburger was first popularised in 1904, and historians at McDonalds agree.
That is when concessionaire Fletcher Davis of Athens, Texas, served the hamburger in the St. Louis World’s Fair. Davis spread a combination of ground mustard and mayonnaise on slices of bread and topped the burger with cucumber pickles and a slice of Bermuda onion. It reportedly created quite a sensation, and after the World’s Fair, newspaper reports helped spread the hamburger idea around the nation.
By the 1920s, the hamburger was available in the quick-service restaurant chain White Castle and the guy who gave the hamburger its contemporary appearance and sought to expand the product’s appeal through chain operations was J. Walter Anderson, a Wichita, Kansas, resident who went on to co-found the White Castle Hamburger system, the oldest continuously running burger chain.
Later White Castle would pioneer the notion of chain marketing with the advertising tag line”Buy ’em by the Sack.”
Another early pioneer in chain development through burgers was the Wimpy Grills chain, launched in 1934, in homage to J. Wellington Wimpy, the chubby, mustachioed cartoon character that hangs around with Popeye, and was famous for saying”I’d Gladly Pay You Tuesday for a Hamburger Today”. Wimpy’s was groundbreaking in two respects: It was the first chain that attempted to court an upscale diner with 10-cent hamburgers, and it had been the first to go abroad. But when its founder, Ed Gold, died in 1978, the chain vanished briefly in keeping with a provision in his will that all 1,500 units shut. However, you can’t keep a great hamburger down, and Wimpy’s are still with us in England today.
Throughout the 1930s, drive-in hamburger restaurants with carhops on roller skates popped up, which was when cheese was first used on hamburgers. In fact, in 1935 a Humpty-Dumpty Drive-In in Denver, Colorado, really tried to trademark the name”cheeseburger.” And ever since Bob’s Big Boy introduced the first double patty burger, fresh varieties of burgers have been created. Today people enjoy chicken burgers, veggie burgers and quarter-pound burgers with many different toppings including lettuce,
Mushrooms, cheese, onions, tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, pickles, you name it, it has been put on a hamburger.
By the 1950s, the hamburger was an American icon. Backyard cookouts were a favorite pastime, but it wasn’t until a milk-shake machine salesman of Czech origin named Ray Kroc met two brothers named McDonald, that the plan of burger history could be permanently changed and the product could be chiselled right next to mom’s apple pie as an American icon. Maurice and Richard McDonald opened their first self-serve McDonald’s in 1948 in San Bernardino, California – as opposed to the drive-in outlets – as a
Hot-dog and fresh orange-juice stand.
Following up on McDonald’s heels are Burger King, home of the flame-broiled hamburger, Wendy’s with their signature square patties and Carl’s Jr/Hardees, which, besides having the best burgers on earth, is famous for last season’s Paris Hilton ad campaign (featuring a scantily clad Hilton washing a car in a bikini, introducing the notion that eating huge hamburgers is a sign of manliness), and their main fast-food hamburger, the Monster Thickburger, with two meat patties, three slices of cheese, six strips of bacon, 1,420 calories and 107 grams of fat, a real man’s meal.
Their large hamburgers are quite popular, you see, because in order to reduce cooking and serving time, other fast food hamburger chains have thinner patties than you’d find in a restaurant. The Carl’s Jr. restaurant chain acknowledged this with the introduction in the US of the”Six Dollar Burger,” featuring a patty the identical size as those served by sit-down restaurants, but at a lower price.
Whether char-grilled, flame-broiled, steamed, fried or cooked on both sides at once in double-sided griddles or slathered with ketchup, mayonnaise, cheese or even teriyaki sauce or concealed under onions, mushrooms or avocado, the hamburger is to the restaurant sector as wings are to aviation. A century after its debut, the hamburger undoubtedly has maintained its own attraction. In actuality, by some sources, it is the number one food item in the world, with 60% of all sandwiches eaten being hamburgers!