Where’s The (Hamburger) Beef

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here.

A while back I did a bit of research to see if it was possible for my 1892 heroine to serve a hamburger at her restaurant.  When I discovered that May, among other things, is National Hamburger Month (I love my National Observances Calendar!) I thought this would be the perfect time to share some of the history and trivia I discovered during my research.

First off, there have been meat patties, in various forms, for thousands of years.  But to get to the origin of what we now think of as the all-American hamburger is more difficult than you might think. During my research I came across a number of different claims for how that wonderful sandwich came about.

One of the earliest claims goes to Canton, Ohio natives Frank and Charles Menches.  They were food vendors at the 1885 Erie County Fair. According to the story, when the Menches ran out of their usual fare of pork sausage, out of desperation they substituted ground beef seasoned with coffee and brown sugar as well as other seasonings. The new fare proved to be a hit and they dubbed it the hamburger after the fair’s location in Hamburg, Ohio.

Another claim states the inventor was Fletcher Davis of Athens, Texas.  It is said he first put a cooked ground beef patty between slices of bread in the late 1880s to accommodate customers who wanted something hearty but portable. According to locals, his claim is well documented. As the story goes, he eventually took his offering to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair where it was a big hit.

Yet another theory proposes that it was the creation of a German cook by the name of Otto Kuasw out of Hamburg, Germany. He created a popular sandwich for sailors that was comprised of a beef patty fried in butter, topped with a fried egg, and served between two buns. The story goes that the sailors who travelled between Hamburg and New York, would request a Hamburg style beef sandwich when dining in American restaurants.

Those claims, however, are disputed by proponents of Louis Lassen of New Haven, Connecticut.  Their story is that Lassen created the burger in 1900. The descendants of Lassen consider it a matter of family pride, and they have the Library of Congress backing up their claim.

There are many other very passionate claims about the hamburger’s origins, and to tell the truth, it was likely invented independently across the country by quite a number of individuals. One thing is true – several food vendors sold them during the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and from there it quickly spread across the country.

So the question that prompted my research, could my heroine serve hamburgers at her restaurant – was both yes and no. She wouldn’t be able to serve something called a hamburger, but she could serve a sandwich that has a main component of a beef patty

And here’s a bit of hamburger trivia for you:

  • During World War I, because of the food’s tie to the German city of Hamburg, the U.S. Government tried to change its name to the more patriotic-sounding Liberty Sandwiches.
  • White Castle, founded in Wichita, Kansas in 1921, holds the record for being the oldest hamburger chain. Their first burger sold for a nickel.
  • According to the Oxford English Dictionary, burger first came into use as an abbreviated form of hamburger in 1939
  • According to an AP report, in 2003 PETA (an animal rights group) offered officials of Hamburg , NY, $15,000 to change the name of their town to Veggieburg. They declined.
  • In 2012, cooks at the Black Bear Casino Resort in Carlton, Minnesota prepared what was then the largest burger on record.  It weighed in at just over a ton and then was topped with 52.5 pounds of tomatoes, 50 pounds of lettuce, 19 pounds of pickles, 60 pounds of onions, 40 pounds of cheese and 16.5 pounds of bacon.
    In July of 2017 that record was broken when 6 men in Pilsting Germany created a burger that weighed in at a little over 2,566 pounds.
  • 50 BILLION burgers are consumed in the United States each year.  If that quantity was laid end to end, they would circle the earth over 32 times!

  • The average American eats a hamburger 3 times a week.
  • Of all sandwiches sold globally, 60% are hamburgers.
  • McDonald’s sells 75+ burgers every SECOND.

As for me, my favorite burger is one that is grilled to medium well, topped with pepperjack cheese, bacon and bbq sauce and serve on a toasted sesame seed bun.

So tell me, did any of the above facts surprise you? And do you have a favorite way to have your burger prepared?


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Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at www.facebook.com/WinnieGriggs.Author or email her at winnie@winniegriggs.com.

46 thoughts on “Where’s The (Hamburger) Beef”

  1. An interesting post Winnie. Thanks for sharing. I didn’t realize how early hamburgers were created. I Love my burgers well done with cheddar cheese, lots of bacon and tomatoes with a few chips on top with BBQ sauce on a seeded bun. Now I think I know what we’re having for dinner. lol lol

  2. Winnie- ehatca gteat blog. I’ve heard many different stories of how it came to be, but only one that I remember that you mentioned. The one with the German cooks from Hamburg.
    I’m from Texas so the Texas story was definitely new to me.
    Yes many facts were new to me. I loved this.
    My favorite way to eat one is grilled out side with mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion and green chili’s on it. Omg now I want a hamburger SB it’s only 5:30 in the morning. I know what I’m having for lunch.
    Have a blesssed day my friend.

  3. Interesting info!! I like my burger Jimmy Buffet style with steak sauce on it preferably Heinz57. Have a Great Day!!!

  4. WOW how interesting , thank you for the research! I actually never ate a Hamburger with Cheese till I was PG with my first child. White Castle was our travel Hamburger, as my Aunt would buy a bag of them and put us in backseat and off we would go ? Now I will have to get grill out for burgers and extra pickles and mustard ??

    • Hi Rose Ann – I remember White Castle burgers from my childhood as well – we always considered them a special treat when my mom bought them for us.

  5. Considering I live 21 miles from Athens, Texas and go there weekly I knew that Athens, Texas held claim to the creation of the hamburger. Your book would of course have to be between slices of homemade bread. How did they even have ground meat back then though? The first meat grinder wasn’t invented until the 1900’s in Germany. I can’t imagine having to make ground beef any other way. It would have to have been very time consuming. I’m way behind on my hamburger consumption because I probably don’t even eat three hamburgers per month much less a week. I’m not a fast food hamburger eater at all. Yuck! Most do not have any flavor and I often ponder if its real hamburger meat. I’ll be sharing this blog it has such interesting history of the hamburger and its hamburger month! I like a burger when the patty is seasoned with seasoned salt, black pepper, garlic and Worcestershire sauce cooked in a cast iron skillet with lots of browning on each side. My topping vary but my favorite would be with grilled onions, mushrooms ans jalapenos with provolone cheese. No condiments on this version because it would take away from the grilled veggies.

  6. how interesting. very good information about hamburgers. all i know is I have been eating them for as long as i can remember. heck i even use to work at burger king. the way i like my hamburger. not a tofu burger, chicken burger or turkey burger, good ole beef burger. is well done with cheese,ketchup,mayo,onion,lettuce,sauteed mushrooms and some bacon, don’t care what type of bun on it, but if i don’t have all that to make it i have been known to do just between two slices of bread with some ketchup. oh and it has to have salt and pepper on it while it is cooking,

  7. This post is really interesting. The fact that surprised me the most was an average American eats a hamburger 3 times a week. I might have 1 or 2 a month. I like my hamburgers with only cheese and ketchup on them.

  8. Well, I’m not part of the “average American”statistic. I’m not a fan of burgers and only eat one every six months! I love my meats, but something about growing up on a dairy farm made me dislike burgers. Lol

  9. Hi Winnie very interesting story. I would have thought a cow boy would have created the hamburger. Who ever we thank them. Lol

  10. I’m not an average American either. I have had two burgers in the last three weeks–on homemade buns with Jack cheese, lettuce from the garden and tomato. We had to check out the beef we had just brought home from the custom butcher. We usually do our own but ran out of time and sent the beef to town to be cut up this year. We did get our pork done at home and had our usual “real hamburger”, a burger made with ground pork from the fresh (not cured) ham. Some would just call this a porkburger. Whatever you call it, it is good too.

  11. I love your post, Winnie, and I love hamburgers! There is a little gas station/grocery store down the road from our house that has the best burgers. I guess a hamburger is one food I would never get bored with..so many varieties!!

  12. We do like our burgers. I like mine with cheddar and with bacon and do not forget the pickles.

  13. Interesting post! Thanks for sharing all of that research!

    I like my hamburger on someone else’s plate and then a grilled chicken breast in a bun with romaine lettuce, tomatoes, onions and mayo on my plate. 🙂

    I haven’t eaten meat or pork since I was in my 20s, but I ain’t a-sayin’ how long ago that was! My doctor nixed them because I kept getting bronchitis & Cutting out the meat fat worked! So I’m a longtime fish and fowl gal! 🙂

  14. Surprising yes, shocking no. Who ever invented the burger was a great invention and one that everyone still enjoys today so thanks for the history lesson on the burger. Mine I get from Wendy’s and oh so good. But I only have one about once every other month.

  15. Winnie Griggs, this was so informative. I already knew that the word hamburger was associated with a town called Hamburg, either US or Germany. However, the number of burgers a week was quite a surprise. I like my burgers grilled over an outdoor grill with mayo, mustard, ketchup, tomatoes and sometimes pickles. The surprise in my burgers are the seasonings. I put garlic powder, seasoned salt, pepper, and one of two seasonings, either Defender’s Greek Seasoning or McCormick’s Gourmet Burger Blend. Then for added specialness, I sprinkle a little extra seasonings on top before grilling. Yummmmmm.

  16. Thanks for sharing these fun facts. I love a hamburger with tomatoes, onions and lettuce.

  17. I had heard much of the information before. What I would like to know is how you would be able to cook a 2,000+ pound burger to something more than rare. It would have to be awfully thin which would make it really big in diameter.

    My favorite is a burger cooked well with real, sharp cheddar cheese and bacon on top, a bit of mustard or/and catsup, served on a whole wheat sesame bun.

  18. I like my hamburgers well done with pretty much any kind of cheese on top. With swiss cheese, I like grilled mushrooms. I also like jalapenos or bacon, depending on my mood and what is available.

  19. 3X a week! I’m way below average. I love a good burger, but no way could I eat one 3X a week.

  20. Hi Winnie, The Ronald Reagan library has a special display featuring Genghis Khan. Guess what? Supposedly, he was the first to come up with the concept of ground meat. His soldiers would put the meat under their saddles to be eaten later. Yep, that’s right. We owe 13th century Mongolia for the rise of the hamburger!

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