2 million BC
—The aurochs, ancestors of modern cattle, evolve in what is now India. Cave dwellers in Lascaux, France, paint them.
—Prehistoric Middle East societies domesticate cattle.
—Old Homestead, New York City’s oldest steakhouse, opens. Its $41 Kobe beef burger won’t appear for more than a century, however.
1881 —Chicago meatpacker Gustavus Swift perfects a refrigerated railcar that can ship beef cross-country without spoilage, securing Chicago’s place as the nation’s butcher for more than a half-century.
1885 —Depending on whom you ask, either Charlie Nagreen, of Seymour, Wisconsin, or the Menches brothers, of Akron, Ohio, invent the modern hamburger sandwich, serving it at their respective county fairs.
1906 —Upton Sinclair publishes The Jungle. Its graphic depiction of the unsanitary conditions in a Chicago meat-packing plant leads to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act later that year.
1921 —Billy Ingram and Walter Anderson open the first White Castle hamburger stand, in Wichita, Kansas.
1932 —The Great Depression replaces beef with cabbage soup and braised hobo-shoe. Consumption hits an all-time low of 32.1 pounds per capita.
—Ray Kroc opens his first franchised McDonald’s, in Des Plains, Illinois.
1960 —Chicago’s last meatpacking facility closes, as processors move west to be closer to feedlots.
1970 —General Mills debuts Hamburger Helper to help consumers stretch a small amount of ground beef into a family meal.
1976 —Beef consumption hits 88.8 pounds per capita, its all-time high, thanks to the largest cattle herd in U.S. history hitting slaughter age.
1980 —People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) forms.
1984 —Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” commercial debuts, making 81-year-old Clara Peller a star, until she is fired in 1985 for appearing in another ad saying she found the beef—in a jar of Prego.
1986 —Scientists in England record the first known case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease). The United States doesn’t ban British beef until ten years later, however.
1992 —Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution is published. It will spend four years on the New York Times bestseller list and lead millions to shun carbohydrates in favor of steaks.
2001 —New York Times Magazine contributing editor Michael Pollan buys a steer and follows it to the slaughterhouse for an article that condemns the modern feedlot beef industry. It serves as the inspiration for The Omnivore’s Dilemma five years later.