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Arnold Gatilao, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

21 Crave-Worthy Facts About White Castle

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Arnold Gatilao, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

It’s the original fast-food restaurant—the purveyor of tiny burgers with an outsized appeal known simply as "The Crave." White Castle may not be the largest burger chain, but it arguably has the most devoted following, with fans writing songs, directing movies, getting married inside restaurants, and carting their sliders all over the world. Not bad for an operation that began as a single hamburger stand in Wichita about 100 years ago.

1. The founder invented the modern hamburger.

Walt Anderson, a short-order cook in Wichita, Kans., liked to experiment with the size and shape of the hamburger patties he served. His greatest invention, though, was said to be an accident: One day Anderson became so frustrated with how his meatballs were sticking to the griddle that he smashed one with a spatula. And thus, the flat patty was born.

2. Anderson also pioneered fast food in America.

In 1916, Anderson opened a hamburger stand with an $80 loan and quickly expanded to four locations. W.E. "Billy" Ingram, a local real estate broker who would eventually become the company’s CEO, bought in, and in 1921 they established a chain of small, efficiently run restaurants selling 5-cent burgers by the sack. White Castle is widely credited as the first fast-food concept in America.

3. Even in 1916, people had 'The Crave.'

According to David G. Hogan’s Selling ‘em by the Sack, while working at his original burger stand Anderson noticed several young boys who regularly bought sacks of hamburgers. Thinking this odd, he decided to investigate and followed a young patron as he walked down the street, around the corner, and made a delivery into the open door of a limousine.

4. The name was meant to counter the bad rap hamburgers had at the time.

Exposés like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and commentary like Frederick J. Schlink’s Eat, Drink and Be Wary portrayed hamburger beef as unsafe, if not downright poisonous. To give their burgers a pristine image, Ingram and Anderson combined two words that together conveyed purity and solidity: White Castle.

5. The design was inspired by the Chicago Water Tower.

The Windy City landmark, which was one of the few buildings that survived the great fire of 1871, was a model for White Castle’s turret-and-tower design.

6. The company had side businesses making their own buildings and paper hats.

Ingram wanted his restaurants to be small, inexpensive, and quick to build and take down. So in 1934 he started his own subsidiary, Porcelain Steel Buildings, to make the lightweight porcelain-and-steel structures. During World War II, PSB did its part by manufacturing amphibious vehicles. The company also bought manufacturer Paperlynen in 1932 to make the paper hats employees wore—because why not? Realizing it had a profitable business on its hands, White Castle started taking orders from other foodservice establishments, and by 1964 was selling more than 54 million caps annually.

7. Today's slider hasn't deviated much from the original recipe.

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Anderson’s original hamburger involved cooking a small beef patty over shredded onions, then sliding it onto a bun instead of between slices of bread. About 100 years later, not much has changed. 

8. CEO Billy Ingram made flipping burgers a desirable job.

Fast food wages today are so low they've spurred a national movement, but back in the day, flipping burgers at White Castle was a coveted job. Ingram paid employees between $18 and $30 a week—quite a lot in those days, especially for restaurant work—and offered paid sick days, pension plans and regular opportunities for promotion. 

9. He also had exacting standards for workers.

Employees, who each underwent a two-week unpaid apprenticeship, were expected to wear clean white clothes, keep their hair short and be unfailingly courteous to customers. They also (at least in the company’s earliest days) had to be men between the ages of 18 and 24.

10. The company put out a newsletter called the Hot Hamburger.

It included jokes, short stories, and sales advice—like how to convince customers a slice of pie is just what they need after gorging themselves on hamburgers.

11. Ingram funded "scientific" research to prove the nutritional value of its burgers.

S Cook, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Intent on proving that his burgers were not just safe to eat but healthy, too, Ingram funded some rather dubious studies. The best one involved a University of Minnesota med student eating nothing but White Castle burgers for 13 weeks straight. He remained healthy in body, if not in spirit.    

12. They had a program that delivered frozen burgers anywhere in the U.S. within 24 hours.

If you had a craving in the mid-'80s and no White Castle nearby, you could call a toll free number and get frozen sliders delivered to your doorstep. The "Hamburgers to Fly" program was such a success for the company that it paved the way for its line of frozen foods.

13. Kumar of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle was a vegetarian.

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The buddy movie boosted sales of White Castle’s sliders, but co-star Kal Penn never actually ate one due to his vegetarian diet. So crew members created meatless substitutes instead. Today, White Castle sells its own veggie sliders.

14. White Castle has inspired musicians.

Several songs by the Beastie Boys reference White Castle (including helpful information, like "White Castle fries only come in one size"). There’s also "White Castle Blues" by '80s band the Smithereens.

15. They have a 'Craver Hall of Fame.'

To honor its most devoted diners, the company established its hall of fame in 2001. Recent inductees include an Army soldier who took 50 sliders all the way to Germany, and a couple who collectively lost 200 pounds eating sliders. Alice Cooper's in there, too.

16. They get romantic for Valentine’s Day.

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Nothing says love like a shared stack of sliders. Locations take reservations weeks in advance and offer table service. This year, more than 35,000 customers made it a date.

17. There’s a stuffing recipe that uses chopped-up sliders.

Thanksgiving will never be the same. 

18. They make candles that smell like sliders.

Fill your house with that steam-grilled-beef-atop-a-bed-of-onions aroma.

19. They have Crave Mobiles.

Despite having nearly 400 locations, White Castle only operates in 13 states. To feed the crave for those who live in Castle-less areas, the company dispatches mobile restaurants called Crave Mobiles. A recent stop in Orlando saw more than 10,000 sliders sold.

20. Their CEO works behind the counter from time to time.

According to an interview with Columbus CEO, Lisa Ingram, White Castle’s current CEO and great-granddaughter of Billy Ingram, likes to sling burgers at a restaurant near the company’s Columbus, Ohio headquarters. 

21. Their recent Las Vegas opening was a madhouse.

When a White Castle opened on the Las Vegas strip earlier this year, demand was so high that the location ran out of food and had to close for two hours to restock. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the next closest Castle was 1,500 miles away, in Missouri. The crave truly is a powerful thing.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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