thinkstock
thinkstock

The History of the Hamburger

thinkstock
thinkstock

Close your eyes and picture a hamburger. Whether the version in your imagination was bursting with lettuce, tomatoes and onions and oozing ketchup or not, it’s a sure bet that the picture included a bun. Without a bun it’s not a hamburger, just a hamburger patty, or what used to be known as a “Hamburger steak” or “Hamburg steak." Oh, and happy National Hamburger Day!

The Proto-hamburger, from Sausage to “Steak”

Exactly how a dish named for a German city evolved into one of America’s favorite foods is a riddle wrapped in a mystery on a sesame seed bun. The earliest reference to the ancestor of the hamburger appears in an English cookbook from 1763. Hannah Glasse in Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy tells how to make a Hamburg sausage. She mixes minced beef with suet, spices, wine, and rum and stuffs it into a gut, which is then smoked and dried. Except for the last steps converting it into a sausage, the minced meat and fat with spices could be a Hamburg steak. Strange as it seems, according to Mark H. Zanger’s article on Hamburg steaks in the online reference Daily Life Through History, in Germany, Hamburg never had a special association with chopped meat.

The first glimpse of Hamburg steak in Google Books is less than savory. According to the public documents of Massachusetts for 1835, “There were 689 samples of meat products examined during the year, of which 19 samples of Hamburg steak and 71 samples of sausages were adulterated.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines Hamburg steak as “a dish composed of flat balls of meat like fillets, made of chopped lean beef, mixed with beaten eggs, chopped onions and seasoning, and fried.” The oldest quotation the editors found is from the Boston Journal for 1884. Across the country in San Francisco, a menu from the Clipper Restaurant dated 1871 to 1884 lists Hamburg beefsteak for 10 cents, the same price as stewed mutton, tripe or salmon. A tenderloin steak was 20 cents. 

Getting Warmer: The Hamburger Sandwich 

Who turned a Hamburger steak into “the hamburger” by placing it on a bun? Zigzagging across the country again, we find many contenders. According to the Library of Congress, Louis’ Lunch Wagon in New Haven, Conn., served the first hamburgers in 1895. But their hamburger sandwiches were served between slices of bread. Close, but not the real deal.

There are more tantalizing hints. The Tombstone [Ariz.] Prospector for September 5, 1896 reported that the residents of Bisbee rejoiced at the arrival of a lunch wagon offering pies, hot “tomales,” hamburger sandwiches and other delicacies, “fully guaranteed to be free from all bad effects in the way of nightmares, indigestion, etc.” In 1902, a member of the Delta Sigma Delta fraternity described sampling the offerings at the Indiana State Fair: “I ate a hamburger sandwich, carefully eliminating the gravel and other foreign substances as I came to them,” but didn’t reveal whether the sandwich was on bread or a bun.  

According to an oft-repeated story, Fletcher Davis, a fry cook from the tiny town of Athens, Texas, popularized the hamburger sandwich at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Josh Ozersky in The Hamburger: A History, however, claims Frank X. Tolbert, the late columnist for the Dallas Morning News, concocted the story as well as the nonexistent New York Tribune article he used to back it up.   

Bun, Bun, Who’s Got the Bun? 

A 1911 restaurant-trade book, The Lunch Room calls for two slices of bread for a hamburger sandwich, but also says, about sandwiches in general, “In some localities the round bun sandwich is very popular.” Who can tell where those localities might be? In all likelihood, many a burger was borne on a bun unseen, to waste its perfume in some forgotten lunchroom. 

But in 1916, another fry cook, Walter Anderson of Wichita, Kan., developed a dense bun with a crisp crust especially to hold up to the juiciest hamburger. Ta-da! The quintessential hamburger was born. By 1920 he owned three hamburger stands and he teamed with an investor to expand the business. They designed buildings in the form of castles and painted them bright white to emphasize their devotion to cleanliness.  Sorry, Mickey D, Wendy, Wimpy and all the anonymous lunch wagon proprietors and family picnickers. At least for now, a founder of White Castle holds the title of inventor of the hamburger.

Now, fire up that grill and enjoy a juicy burger on a toasted bun.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
travel
Win a Trip to Any National Park By Instagramming Your Travels
iStock
iStock

If you're planning out your summer vacation, make sure to add a few national parks to your itinerary. Every time you share your travels on Instagram, you can increase your chances of winning a VIP trip for two to the national park of your choice.

The National Park Foundation is hosting its "Pic Your Park" sweepstakes now through September 28. To participate, post your selfies from visits to National Park System (NPS) properties on Instagram using the hashtag #PicYourParkContest and a geotag of the location. Making the trek to multiple parks increases your points, with less-visited parks in the system having the highest value. During certain months, the point values of some sites are doubled. You can find a list of participating properties and a schedule of boost periods here.

Following the contest run, the National Park Foundation will decide a winner based on most points earned. The grand prize is a three-day, two-night trip for the winner and a guest to any NPS property within the contiguous U.S. Round-trip airfare and hotel lodging are included. The reward also comes with a 30-day lease of a car from Subaru, the contest's sponsor.

The contest is already underway, with a leader board on the website keeping track of the competition. If you're looking to catch up, this national parks road trip route isn't a bad place to start.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
15 Dad Facts for Father's Day
iStock
iStock

Gather 'round the grill and toast Dad for Father's Day—the national holiday so awesome that Americans have celebrated it for more than a century. Here are 15 Dad facts you can wow him with today.

1. Halsey Taylor invented the drinking fountain in 1912 as a tribute to his father, who succumbed to typhoid fever after drinking from a contaminated public water supply in 1896.

2. George Washington, the celebrated father of our country, had no children of his own. A 2004 study suggested that a type of tuberculosis that Washington contracted in childhood may have rendered him sterile. He did adopt the two children from Martha Custis's first marriage.

3. In Thailand, the king's birthday also serves as National Father's Day. The celebration includes fireworks, speeches, and acts of charity and honor—the most distinct being the donation of blood and the liberation of captive animals.

4. In 1950, after a Washington Post music critic gave Harry Truman's daughter Margaret's concert a negative review, the president came out swinging: "Some day I hope to meet you," he wrote. "When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!"

5. A.A. Milne created Winnie the Pooh for his son, Christopher Robin. Pooh was based on Robin's teddy bear, Edward, a gift Christopher had received for his first birthday, and on their father/son visits to the London Zoo, where the bear named Winnie was Christopher's favorite. Pooh comes from the name of Christopher's pet swan.

6. Kurt Vonnegut was (for a short time) Geraldo Rivera's father-in-law. Rivera's marriage to Edith Vonnegut ended in 1974 because of his womanizing. Her ever-protective father was quoted as saying, "If I see Gerry again, I'll spit in his face." He also included an unflattering character named Jerry Rivers (a chauffeur) in a few of his books.

7. Andre Agassi's father represented Iran in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics as a boxer.

8. Charlemagne, the 8th-century king of the Franks, united much of Western Europe through military campaigns and has been called the "king and father of Europe" [PDF]. Charlemagne was also a devoted dad to about 18 children, and today, most Europeans may be able to claim Charlemagne as their ancestor.

9. The voice of Papa Smurf, Don Messick, also provided the voice of Scooby-Doo, Ranger Smith on Yogi Bear, and Astro and RUDI on The Jetsons.

10. In 2001, Yuri Usachev, cosmonaut and commander of the International Space Station, received a talking picture frame from his 12-year-old daughter while in orbit. The gift was made possible by RadioShack, which filmed the presentation of the gift for a TV commercial.

11. The only father-daughter collaboration to hit the top spot on the Billboard pop music chart was the 1967 hit single "Something Stupid" by Frank & Nancy Sinatra.

12. In the underwater world of the seahorse, it's the male that gets to carry the eggs and birth the babies.

13. If show creator/producer Sherwood Schwartz had gotten his way, Gene Hackman would have portrayed the role of father Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch.

14. The Stevie Wonder song "Isn't She Lovely" is about his newborn daughter, Aisha. If you listen closely, you can hear Aisha crying during the song.

15. Dick Hoyt has pushed and pulled his son Rick, who has cerebral palsy, through hundreds of marathons and triathlons. Rick cannot speak, but using a custom-designed computer he has been able to communicate. They ran their first five-mile race together when Rick was in high school. When they were done, Rick sent his father this message: "Dad, when we were running, it felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!"

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios