As most children already know, a hamburger is a sandwich made of bread, various toppings and… ham? Nope! It’s ground beef, of course. So why don’t we call it a “beefburger”?
The name “hamburger” actually came from Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany. In the late 1700s, sailors who traveled between Hamburg and New York City often ate hard slabs of salted minced beef, which they called “Hamburg steak.”
As Germans moved to America, they brought some of their favorite foods, including “Hamburg steak,” with them. “Hamburg steak,” however, bore little resemblance to modern-day hamburgers.
So who invented the modern American hamburger? That turns out to be a difficult question with several possible answers.
Even though ancient Egyptians are known to have eaten ground meat, the sandwich we now call a hamburger has been around only a little more than a hundred years.
Texas historian Frank Tolbert — and famous hamburger restaurant chains McDonald’s and Dairy Queen — point to Fletcher Davis of Athens, Texas, as the first to sell hamburgers at his small café in the late 1880s. Davis would later bring his creation to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
The Library of Congress, on the other hand, gives credit for the hamburger to Louis Lassen from New Haven, Connecticut. According to local legend, Lassen first put ground beef between two slices of white bread for customers who wanted lunch in a hurry in 1895.
Of course, the town of Seymour, Wisconsin — the home of the Hamburger Hall of Fame — would argue that Charles “Hamburger Charlie” Nagreen invented the hamburger. At a local fair in 1885, Nagreen reportedly realized customers would enjoy his meatballs more if he made them more portable, so he added two slices of bread, and the hamburger was born.
In truth, it’s quite possible that more than one person came up with the idea at the same time. Near the turn of the 19th century, America was changing. As cities grew and travel became more common, some believe it was only natural that the easy portability of the hamburger would become popular.
Some believe that the bun is actually the key component of the hamburger. While early hamburgers were served between two slices of regular bread, there is good evidence that the first hamburger served on a bun was made by Oscar Bilby of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1891.
The actual invention of the hamburger bun is credited to fry cook Walter Anderson in 1916. Anderson would later found hamburger chain White Castle in 1921.
Whoever invented the hamburger, there’s no arguing that it has become a favorite of Americans everywhere. The hamburger has also become the focus of world records.
For example, Takeru Kobayashi of Japan set the world record for eating the most hamburgers in three minutes by eating 10 hamburgers — an average of one hamburger every 18 seconds — on August 29, 2010!