The Hamburger Through Time

A short history of the greatest American food icon

The burger is so closely associated with American culture that it might as well be emblazoned on the U.S. flag. The exact origins of this iconic sandwich—the simple beef patty in a bun—are as murky as the provenance of some of the meat itself. Our timeline covers the history of the burger over the last 200 years, chronicling how this poor man’s street food ascended to pop triumph in the postwar era, and more recently has been admonished as the harbinger of all things unsustainable and unhealthy—even as we continue to consume more burgers with each passing year.

Once you’ve digested the massive role the hamburger has played in American culture, cook up one. We’ve got recipes for some of the most iconic, most delicious burgers in history.







The Oxford English Dictionary defines Hamburg steak as salt beef.

New York’s Delmonico’s Restaurant issues the first printed American menu and lists “hamburger steak” as one of the priciest items for 10 cents.

A recipe for Hamburg steak (a dish resembling Salisbury steak and considered the predecessor to the burger) is published in Mary Johnson Lincoln’s Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book.

Charles Nagreen of Seymour, Wisconsin, claims to invent the hamburger when he places fried ground meat between two slices of bread so that patrons of his Outgamie County Fair food stand can eat while they walk.

Frank Menches claims to invent the hamburger when he decides to grind up meat and serve it as a patty because he risks running out of sausage at his Akron County Fair concession stand.

The Hamburg steak is such a popular dish that Fannie Farmer writes nothing more than basic instructions in her definitive Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

Louis Lassen of Louis Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut, lays claim to the invention of the hamburger when he grinds up lean beef, broils it, and serves it between slices of toast.

Upton Sinclair publishes The Jungle, in which he discusses the horrid state of Chicago meatpacking plants and puts the nation on edge about the cleanliness of the food supply.

Real estate and insurance agent Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram teams up with cook Walter Anderson to open the first White Castle hamburger stand in Wichita, Kansas. Anderson invents the modern hamburger when he cooks patties of ground meat on the griddle and serves them with a mess of onions on a soft yeast bun; they’re sold for 5 cents each.

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