The History of the American Hamburger

burgers and shakes

If you live in America, chances are you love burgers and shakes. With the 4th of July just around the corner, there is no better time than now to learn the history of these delicious, mouth-watering, morsels. In fact, hamburgers are so popular, that they account for over 60% of ALL sandwiches sold. Total, there are over 14 BILLION burgers eaten in America each year. That is a lot of burgers and shakes!

So where did this glorious beefy patty get its start? Whether you like your burgers and shakes together or separate, whether you enjoy a toasted bun or a fresh one, the best burgers are all part of one incredible story. Here is the story of the authentic hamburgers:


The true burger originator remains a mystery. Whoever was the first man or woman to think up this incredible meal remains hidden, though they have our thanks. While we do not know who made the first burger, we have a pretty good idea of how burgers and shakes gained such an incredible foothold in America.

One of the most common misconceptions is that hamburgers were invented in Hamburg, Germany. While Hamburg was certainly famous for their high quality beef, the origin of the hamburger lies elsewhere. Groups of German immigrants began arriving in America during the 19th century, populating cities like Chicago and New York. Soon after their arrival, the Germans started opening restaurants that featured classic German dishes with an American twist. Perhaps the earliest version (prototype?) of the hamburger is a classic dish of minced beef combined with onion, garlic, salt, and pepper, all grilled or fried on the stove. That is about as far as the link between Hamburg and the hamburger go. From there on, it is all America (who decided burgers and shakes would make a great pair).

Intro: The Bun. Adding the bun to a traditional "hamburg steak" was the next big step forward in hamburger history. In fact, the addition of the bun is what started launching hamburgers into nationwide popularity during the 1850s. Part of the reason for this was that many Americans worked industrial jobs in factories. The nature of factory work created a need for food that could be eaten quickly, and on the go. No sit-down steaks with forks and knives, but a steak in between two slices of bread? Perfect. Food that could be ordered through a window and eaten quickly with just your hands were ideal for these hungry workers.

While the first person to offer a hamburg steak between two slices of bread (called a "hamburg sandwhich") is unknown, by the turn of the century the hamburger was already an American classic.

Enter the 1920's and the fast food scene. Billy Ingram and Walter Anderson opened the first fast food hamburger joint in Wichita Kansas. White Castle's main offering was a small, 5 cent burger (about 63 cents in today's money). Because of its inexpensive price pint, White Castle encouraged their customers to purchase burgers by the sack. This was the first mainstream burger joint in America.

Hamburgers continued to grow in popularity over the next 20 or so years. While there was a bit of a food shortage for meat during World War II, during the war American soldiers managed to bring hamburgers overseas with them. Hamburgers were easy to make (and eat), and helped the soldiers have a piece of home with them while fighting for their country.

Eventually, the first McDonald's (though it wasn't known as that back then) opened in the 1940s in San Bernardino, California. Within just 10 years, McDonald's had sold over 100 million hamburgers, and had started popularizing the idea of burgers and shakes as a combo meal. Today, McDonald's sells over 75 burgers each second!

Now hamburgers can be found in nearly every part of the world, and the concept has evolved to endless variations. From the classic beef patty to a cheeseburger, to gourmet variations, hamburgers are everywhere. Even vegans and vegetarians can't stay away from the idea of sinking their teeth into a juicy "burger," and try to create their own meatless versions! Get ready for summer with the best burgers in town and take part in this rich American tradition.