History

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Main articles: History of the hamburger and History of the hamburger in the United States

There have been many claims about the origin of the hamburger, but the origins remain unclear.[4] The popular book "The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy" by Hannah Glasse included a recipe in 1758 as "Hamburgh sausage", which suggested to serve it "roasted with toasted bread under it". A similar snack was also popular in Hamburg by the name "Rundstück warm" ("bread roll warm") in 1869 or earlier,[5] and supposedly eaten by many emigrants on their way to America, but may have contained roasted beefsteak rather than Frikadeller. Hamburg steak is reported to have been served between two pieces of bread on the Hamburg America Line, which began operations in 1847. Each of these may mark the invention of the Hamburger, and explain the name.

There is a reference to a "Hamburg steak" as early as 1884 in the Boston Journal.[OED, under "steak"] On July 5, 1896, the Chicago Daily Tribune made a highly specific claim regarding a "hamburger sandwich" in an article about a "Sandwich Car": "A distinguished favorite, only five cents, is Hamburger steak sandwich, the meat for which is kept ready in small patties and 'cooked while you wait' on the gasoline range."[6]

Claims of invention

According to Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, the hamburger, a ground meat patty between two slices of bread, was first created in America in 1900 by Louis Lassen, a Danish immigrant, owner of Louis' Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut.[7] There have been rival claims by Charlie Nagreen, Frank and Charles Menches, Oscar Weber Bilby, and Fletcher Davis.[8][9] White Castle traces the origin of the hamburger to Hamburg, Germany with its invention by Otto Kuase.[10] However, it gained national recognition at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair when the New York Tribune referred to the hamburger as "the innovation of a food vendor on the pike".[9] No conclusive argument has ever ended the dispute over invention. An article from ABC News sums up: "One problem is that there is little written history. Another issue is that the spread of the burger happened largely at the World's Fair, from tiny vendors that came and went in an instant. And it is entirely possible that more than one person came up with the idea at the same time in different parts of the country."[11]

Louis Lassen

Louis Lassen of Louis' Lunch, a small lunch wagon in New Haven, Connecticut, is said to have sold the first hamburger and steak sandwich in the U.S. in 1900.[12][13][14] New York magazine states that "The dish actually had no name until some rowdy sailors from Hamburg named the meat on a bun after themselves years later", noting also that this claim is subject to dispute.[15] A customer ordered a quick hot meal and Louis was out of steaks. Taking ground beef trimmings, Louis made a patty and grilled it, putting it between two slices of toast.[9] Some critics like Josh Ozersky, a food editor for New York Magazine, claim that this sandwich was not a hamburger because the bread was toasted.[16]

Charlie Nagreen

One of the earliest claims comes from Charlie Nagreen, who in 1885 sold a meatball between two slices of bread at the Seymour Fair[17] now sometimes called the Outagamie County Fair.[16] The Seymour Community Historical Society of Seymour, Wisconsin, credits Nagreen, now known as "Hamburger Charlie", with the invention. Nagreen was fifteen when he was reportedly selling pork sandwiches at the 1885 Seymour Fair, made so customers could eat while walking. The Historical Society explains that Nagreen named the hamburger after the Hamburg steak with which local German immigrants were familiar.[18][19]

Otto Kuase

According to White Castle, Otto Kuase was the inventor of the hamburger. In 1891 he created a beef patty cooked in butter and topped with a fried egg. German sailors would later omit the fried egg.[9]

Oscar Weber Bilby

The family of Oscar Weber Bilby claim the first-known hamburger on a bun was served on July 4, 1891 on Grandpa Oscar's farm. The bun was a yeast bun.[8][20][21][22][23] In 1995, Governor Frank Keating proclaimed that the first true hamburger on a bun was created and consumed in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1891, calling Tulsa, "The Real Birthplace of the Hamburger."[24]

Frank and Charles Menches

A bacon cheeseburger, from a New York City diner

 

Frank and Charles Menches claim to have sold a ground beef sandwich at the Erie County Fair in 1885 in Hamburg, New York.[16] During the fair, they ran out of pork sausage for their sandwiches and substituted beef.[17]Kunzog[who?], who spoke to Frank Menches, says they exhausted their supply of sausage, so purchased chopped up beef from a butcher, Andrew Klein. Historian Joseph Streamer wrote that the meat was from Stein's market not Klein's, despite Stein's having sold the market in 1874.[17] The story notes that the name of the hamburger comes from Hamburg, New York not Hamburg Germany.[17] Frank Menches's obituary in The New York Times states that these events took place at the 1892 Summit County Fair in Akron, Ohio.[25]

Fletcher Davis

Fletcher Davis of Athens, Texas claimed to have invented the hamburger. According to oral histories, in the 1880s he opened a lunch counter in Athens and served a 'burger' of fried ground beef patties with mustard and Bermuda onion between two slices of bread, with a pickle on the side.[9] The story is that in 1904, Davis and his wife Ciddy ran a sandwich stand at the St. Louis World's Fair.[9] Historian Frank X. Tolbert, noted that Athens resident Clint Murchison said his grandfather dated the hamburger to the 1880s with 'Old Dave' a.k.a. Fletcher Davis.[17] A photo of "Old Dave's Hamburger Stand" from 1904 was sent to Tolbert as evidence of the claim.[17]

Other hamburger-steak claims

Various non-specific claims of invention relate to the term "hamburger steak" without mention of its being a sandwich. The first printed American menu which listed hamburger is said to be an 1834 menu from Delmonico's in New York.[26] However, the printer of the original menu was not in business in 1834.[23] In 1889, a menu from Walla Walla Union in Washington offered hamburger steak as a menu item.[9]

Between 1871 and 1884, "Hamburg Beefsteak" was on the "Breakfast and Supper Menu" of the Clipper Restaurant at 311/313 Pacific Street in San Fernando, California. It cost 10 cents—the same price as mutton chops, pig's feet in batter, and stewed veal. It was not, however, on the dinner menu. Only "Pig's Head," "Calf Tongue," and "Stewed Kidneys" were listed.[27] Another claim ties the hamburger to Summit County, New York or Ohio. Summit County, Ohio exists, but Summit County, New York does not.[17]

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