The origin of the hamburger
No one knows for sure when the hamburger was really invented, but several historians agree that the first commercial sale of the hamburger as we know it was at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.
A Texas cowboy named Fletch Davis is most widely-reported as the inventor of the hamburger. Davis, also known as “Old Dave” began offering friends a grilled browned beef patty between two thick slices of homemade toast. At the urging of friends and family, he opened up a concession stand and began selling the “hamburger sandwich” at the St. Louis World’s Fair.
How did the hamburger get its name?
It came from the Baltic provinces of Russia in the Middle Ages where various tribes of Tartary, who were rowdy, nomadic horseman, developed a fondness for raw beef, known today as steak tartare. These Tartars introduced it to their German trading partners from the port city of Hamburg, who developed a taste for it fried and seasoned with onions – Hamburg Steak. When German immigrants arrived in the United States in the 1700s and 1800s, they brought the steak with them. The first documented American appearance of the Hamburg steak is on the menu at New York’s fabled Delmonico’s Restaurant in 1834.
(Source: Hamburger Heaven, Jeffrey Tennyson, Hyperion, 1993)
How did the Hamburg Steak evolve into the hamburger?
According to some sources, Charlie Nagreen of Seymour, Wisconsin invented the American hamburger at the age of 15 when he delivered it from his ox-driven concession stand at the Outagamie County Fair in 1885. Other sources say a German, Frank Menches, introduced the sandwich at this food stall at the Summit County Fair in Ohio (1892), when he ran out of bulk pork sausage for his sandwiches and substituted beef.
Yet another story credits Louis Lassen of New Haven, Connecticut, with creating the hamburger steak in 1900 as a means for using the trimmings from the steak sandwich he featured at his lunch wagon.
The burger as we know it today…
The hamburger got its first widespread attention at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, where it created a sensation along with the hot dog and ice cream cone. Several authorities believe the vendor in question was Fletcher Davis, who owned a lunch counter in Athens, Texas. Davis’ offspring say he’s the king of the burger makers.
In 1921, hamburger pioneers Walt Anderson and Billy Ingram founded White Castle in Wichita, Kansas, featuring square, baby burgers sold by the sack. White Castle later became the world’s first hamburger chain.
And the rest is history…
From McDonalds opening in Des Plaines, Illinois, in 1955 to the thousands of Wendy’s, Burger Kings, Culvers and others, Americans consume hamburgers by the billions. In 2002, over 8.2 billion hamburgers were served at commercial restaurants in the U.S., making it the most popular sandwich ordered.
Courtesy of the Iowa Beef Industry Council