Ode to hamburgers, but mostly White Castle

Since this is National Hamburger Month, they are on my mind, particularly since Ohio is home to three hamburger chains: Wendy’s, White Castle and Max and Erma’s. Max and Ermas started with the gourmet burger as a focus, but morphed into more over the years.

Here is a bit of hamburger history to help you dazzle your friends with hamburger know-how:

  • In 1921, White Castle became the United States’ first hamburger chain when Billy Ingram, a real estate businessman type, and Walter Anderson, the man who first flattened hamburger into a flat patty with a spatula and grilled it on a bed of shredded onions, formed a partnership.
  • The company moved its headquarters to Columbus, Ohio in 1934.
  • White Castle’s name and signature building were designed to evoke the image of purity, cleanliness, stability, permanence and strength.
  • In 1930, White Castle commissioned a study through the University of Michigan to prove that White Castles are good for you. A college student ate nothing but White Castles for 8 weeks. He was fit as a fiddle after wards.
  • The hamburger was considered low-class food before White Castle changed the public’s mind about it through targeted ad campaigns and PR initiatives. One initiative was printed coupons that offered 5 White Castles for 10 cents.
  • White Castle is credited to making the hamburger America’s first ethnic food. Up until White Castle, people tended to eat their own ethnic background food. As more people ate White Castles, beef production went up.
  • In 1961, White Castle was the first chain to sell a billion hamburgers.
  • Wendy’s is credited as being the first restaurant to have a drive-through, pick-up window. That restaurant is on Henderson Rd. in Columbus. The original Wendy’s that was located in downtown Columbus closed last year, partially because it didn’t have a pick-up window so that adversely affected its sales.
  • This year marks the 50th anniversary that a Max and Erma’s has been in the historic building in the German Village section of Columbus. Max and Erma Visocnik opened the original Max and Erma’s as a bar/tavern back in 1958. It was bought by Todd Barnum and Barry Zacks in 1972 with the intention of turning it into an eatery that sold gourmet hamburgers.
  • Of the three chains, the only one that is still family-owned is White Castle.

As you are eating a hamburger sometime this summer, thank Billy Ingram. If you are my cousin, Brad you can thank Billy and Walter for starting off the path to your wife. Without the Slyder® hamburger, there wouldn’t be White Castle, and without Billy, the chain wouldn’t have existed.

My cousin and his wife first met in a White Castle parking lot in Florence, Kentucky in 1977. They are still happily married. Now, that’s a real hamburger story.