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!


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  1. Wow! Wonderopolis you come up with amazing and interesting ideas. I have always wonder way they call it a “Hamburger”. Now it makes sense.
    Thank you! :)

    • You’re very welcome, Torey/MC! Thanks so much for stopping by Wonderopolis today! What kinds of toppings do you like on your hamburger? Ketchup? Mustard? Blue Cheese? Onions? :-)

  2. Yes. I do like cheese on my burger, how about you? But sometimes i like it with out cheese because then the burger is juicy!! ha :) :)

    • Hi, Sydney! We like to try new things here in Wonderopolis, so maybe we will eat a different kind of hamburger each time we have one from now on! How much fun would that be? :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why aren’t hamburgers made of ham?
  • Who invented the modern hamburger?
  • Can a hamburger help you become a better writer?

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Try It Out

Hamburgers not only taste delicious, but they can also help you write better. We kid you not!

Think about hamburgers for a bit, and then write a simple paragraph about how you feel about them. Use the “Hamburger Method” to write your paragraph!

The Hamburger Method is a simple, easy, step-by-step process for writing clear, focused paragraphs. If it helps, feel free to use this Hamburger Writing graphic organizer.

The first sentence of a paragraph should be the topic sentence, which tells what the paragraph is going to be about. The topic sentence is represented by the top bun of the hamburger.

A sample topic sentence for your paragraph about hamburgers might be: I love hamburgers because I enjoy making them with interesting toppings.

The next several sentences — represented by the meat, cheese and toppings of the burger — give more information, including interesting details. For example, you might want to include details about the interesting toppings you like to put on hamburgers.

Finally, end your paragraph by restating your topic sentence in a slightly different way. This concluding sentence is represented by the bottom bun of the burger.

Here’s what a finished hamburger paragraph about hamburgers might look like:

I love hamburgers because I enjoy making them with interesting toppings. Almost everyone loves cheese on hamburgers, and I prefer cheddar. Rather than the typical hamburger toppings, such as ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, I like to enhance my hamburgers with unique toppings, like jalapeno peppers, onion rings and barbecue sauce. There’s nothing I love more than sinking my teeth into a juicy hamburger with my own hand-picked toppings!


Still Wondering

Even if hamburgers aren’t made from ham, there is a thing or two to learn from pork. Visit EconEdLink’s Costs and Benefits of “The Three Little Pigs” lesson to learn what “The Three Little Pigs” can teach children about decision making!


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