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Burgers and Hamburgers

America's most popular sandwich. Hamburgers. Not steak tartar, not Salisbury steak, not hamburger steak, not steak sandwiches, but hamburgers.

Most discussions of the origin of hamburgers begin with the "Tartars" or "Mongols" and how they would put meat scrapings under the saddles of their horses where the constant pounding would tenderize it so much that they would then eat it raw. I'm gonna skip that. "Steak Tartare" is not a hamburger.

Next, the hamburger historians go into various hamburger steaks, including "Salisbury Steak", made of minced beef. That's not a hamburger either. They also go off into discussions of the word "hamburger" and its origins. That's not what interests me, although these were often called "Hamburg steaks" after Hamburg, Germany, and that's one possibility for where the name "hamburger" came from.

A hamburger is a cooked patty of ground beef served between two pieces of bread, usually a bun. Dressings traditionally include lettuce, tomato, onion, dill pickles, mustard, mayonnaise, and, if you must... ketchup.

The claims to the origin of the hamburger are:

1885 - Charlie Nagreen of Seymour, Wisconsin sold meatballs at Outagamie County Fair. One day when sales were slow, he tried selling flattened meatballs between two slices of bread so that people could eat them as they walked, and the hamburger was born. He was known to many as "Hamburger Charlie."

1885 - Frank and Charles Menches from Akron, Ohio were concessionaires in the Midwest in the early 1880s. At the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, New York in 1885, they ran out of pork sausage for their sandwiches and could not find more. A local butcher suggested that they substitute beef, so they ground up beef, added some spices, and served it between two pieces of bread. Since the fair was in Hamburg, New York, they called this sandwich the "hamburger". (This is another possible origin for the name "hamburger").

1891 - Oscar Weber Bilby, from near Tulsa, Oklahoma, made himself an iron grill, and on the Fourth of July of 1891 he used it to cook ground Angus meat patties which he served on his wife's homemade yeast buns. He served these to friends and neighbors who attended his Fourth of July celebration that year and regularly thereafter, and the rest is history.

1900 - Louis Lassen of New Haven, Connecticut ran a small lunch wagon selling steak sandwiches to local factory workers. The story is told that Lassen ground up scraps of steak and served it between two pieces of toasted bread to a customer who wanted something he could eat on the run. "Louis' Lunch" still sells these, served between pieces of toast. They don't provide mustard or ketchup.

1904 - The hamburger got national attention at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. The New York Tribune called the new hamburger sandwich, “the innovation of a food vendor on the (midway).” Some folks say that vendor was Fletch Davis, owner of a lunch counter in Athens, Texas. He had sold hamburgers at his Athens lunch counter, and then had opened up a stand and begun selling them in the concession area of the World's Fair in 1904. However, there does not seem to be any evidence for this claim. His name is not on the concessions list of the 1904 Fair.

1921 - Walter Anderson, a fry cook from Wichita, Kansas, and an insurance man named Edgar Waldo "Billy" Ingram, started the first hamburger chain, "White Castle" hamburgers in Wichita, Kansas.


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