America’s Favorite Sandwich: The Hamburger

Exactly when and by whom the hamburger was invented seems to depend on who is telling the story. Well known historian Frank Tolbert attributed the honors to Fletcher Davis of Henderson County, Texas. It seems “Old Dave,” as he was known to most folks, owned a lunch counter in Athens where he served grilled beef patties topped with a slice of onion between two thick pieces of toasted bread as far back as the late 1880s. Tolbert also credits Davis with being the “unknown” vendor who sold hamburgers at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

Other claimants of the honor include “Hamburger Charlie” Nagreen of Seymoor, Wisconsin; the Menches brothers, Frank and Charles, of Akron, Ohio, in 1885; and Louis Lassen of New Haven, Connecticut, in 1895.

Weber’s Root Beer Restaurant

There is significant evidence to suggest that it was Oscar Weber Bilby who, on July 4, 1891, at his farm in central Oklahoma, served some ground beef patties on his wife Fanny’s home-made sourdough buns (the bun is an essential part of the hamburger) to friends and family. This annual cook-out celebration became a popular Bilby tradition that continued until 1933 when Oscar and his son Leo opened a burger and root beer stand in Tulsa. While no one, however, can explain why it took the family so many years to open their business, Weber’s Root Beer Stand remains in operation today.

No matter which of these stories you choose to believe, the fact is the hamburger has become the country’s favorite sandwich (40% of all sandwiches sold), with more than 13 billion sold each year. And if those numbers are not impressive enough, burgers consume over three-quarters of all beef served by America’s food establishments.

Original White Castle’s

Honors for the oldest hamburger chain in America goes to Walter Anderson and Edgar Ingram who in 1921 founded White Castle in Wichita, Kansas. Their dinner roll-sized burger, with its patented five-hole patty, originally sold for a nickel each. Today, White Castle remains a family business run by Ingram’s grandson. Although only 420 outlets strong (all located within the continental United States) the White Castle operation enjoys the second highest per store sales in the fast food industry.

The Original Bob’s Big Boy and Modern Day Logo

The 1930s were eventful years for the hamburger. In 1934, the original Wimpy Burger chain was founded; however all 1,500 stores were closed in 1978 upon the death of its founder, as was his wish. In 1935 the name “cheeseburger” was trademarked to Louis Ballast of the Humpty Dumpty Drive-in in Denver, Colorado. Late in the decade, Bob’s Big Boy introduced the first double meat burger. It was also in the ’30s that the “drive-in” restaurant was created, allowing patrons to dine in their cars. This innovation was the forerunner to the drive-thru service that remains a mainstay of today’s fast food industry.

One of the First McDonald Drive-In’s

McDonald’s opened their first restaurant in 1948, although it wouldn’t be until 1954 when Ray Kroc would take the helm and create the empire that not only revolutionized fast food and the way we eat, but the burger itself. Today, McDonald’s operates 31,000 restaurants in 119 countries around the world.

Some other fast-food restaurants that owe their success to hamburger sales include Burger King, A&W, Whataburger, Wendy’s, Jack in the Box, In-N-Out Burger, Five Guys (currently America’s fastest growing franchise), Fatburger, and Sonic.

There are also several “restaurant-style” hamburger chains such as BJ’s, Chili’s, Red Robin, and Fuddruckers that specialize in more upscale burgers.

In fact, hamburgers are sold in just about every restaurant, in every style and size imaginable – meat and bun only; all-the-way or you-name-the-way; secret sauce or no secret sauce; kid-size, regular-size or super-size. There is Kobe beef, regular beef, or no beef. Whatever your choice, you can find it somewhere in this great country.

Regardless of how you choose to personalize this emblematic American culinary creation, there is but one rule which must be followed – a hamburger must be made with beef. Ground chicken, turkey, tuna, and other meats may provide a tasty sandwich filling, but they do not a hamburger make.

So let’s all do something patriotic this week. Have an all-American hamburger. Have it your way, and don’t forget the fries.

Make Em: In-N-Out Double Double Burger, Sonic No.1 Burger, Browning Heights Hamburger

Spam: America’s Favorite Luncheon Meat

Geo. A. Hormel & Co, a meatpacker of fresh pork products, was founded in 1891 in an abandoned creamery on the banks of Red Cedar River northeast of Austin, Minnesota. Pork sales flourished during the late 1890s, and the company quickly expanded its manufacturing facilities and established a distribution center in Duluth and sales offices in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Chicago, Dallas, and Atlanta.

By the beginning of World War I, the company had entered into the export business which came to account for about one-third of its sales, and by 1924, the Austin plant was processing more than one million hogs a year.

In 1926, Hormel & Co. developed “Hormel Flavor-Sealed Ham,” the world’s first canned ham. The success of this revolutionary new product continued Hormel’s rapid growth, and three years later the company once again expanded, tripling its facilities in size. That same year, Jay C. Hormel, son of the company’s founder, took over as president.

In an effort to reduce their surplus of pork shoulders (at that time, a largely unmarketable part of the pig), Jay, who had a penchant for innovation, decided to grind the meat together with some spices to produce a fully-cooked canned luncheon meat he called “Hormel Spiced Ham.” It should be noted that the product originally contained no ham, but a small amount was later added in order to satisfy public perception.

As a means to finding a snappier and less cumbersome name under which to market their new product, a contest was held at a New Year’s Eve party with $100 as the winning prize. Kenneth Daigneau, brother of Hormel vice-president Ralph Daigneau, had the winning entry derived as many believe by combining the words “spiced” and “ham” to form the name by which it became known worldwide–Spam.

The first can of Spam was introduced to America in 1937 and became an almost immediate hit due to its taste, low price, and convenience. Over the next four years, Hormel & Co. sold more than forty million pounds of their newest marketing success.

The advent of World War II saw the popularity of Spam soar even more with fifteen million cans shipped to our troops every week. And while many soldiers made jokes about the product, calling it things like “Special Army Meat,” Spam became an important component in keeping our soldiers nourished. Its presence during the war also introduced Spam to markets throughout the world.

Following the war, Spam’s popularity continued to grow rapidly, both domestically and internationally. By 1959, the company had sold its first one billion cans, and by 2007, sales had reached more than seven billion cans. Spam is sold in forty-one countries on six continents with the largest consumers being Hawaii and Guam where every person eats more than sixteen cans per year. In fact, Spam is so popular in those countries that even fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King feature it on their menus. Spam is also a staple in almost every kitchen pantry across China, Japan, and South Korea.

Today, Americans consume more than 264 cans of Spam every minute (or 4.4 cans per second) of every day. Over the past seventy-five years, Spam’s popularity has continued to grow, propelled by product consistency and innovation, until it has managed to reach iconic status with its American public. Spam’s loyal fan base has inspired annual events and celebrations nationwide:

  • The SpamJam is held annually at Hormel’s headquarters in Austin, Minnesota. This carnival-like affair coincides with July 4th and features parades and fireworks.
  • SpamJam Hawaii is a street festival held each year in Waikiki during the last week of April and features arts, crafts, and activity booths.
  • Spanarama is an event held each year around April Fool’s Day in Austin, Texas. This fun event features various sporting games and the extremely popular Spam Cook-Off.
  • Every year, visitors of more than 40 state and regional fairs across the country enjoy Spam recipe and cooking contests.
  • The 16,500 square foot Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota, is host to more than 20,000 fans annually and features all sorts of Spam displays and memorabilia.

There is also a Spam catalog containing cups, clothes and kitchen gadgets, Spam cookbooks, Spam joke books, and even a Spam Fan Club with chapters in both the United States and England and membership worldwide.

Few other food products in the world have ever reached the pinnacle of status and notoriety known by this American invention. An iconic food product that has remained virtually unchanged in more than seven decades, Spam is still America’s favorite luncheon meat.

Try Em: Classic, Lite, Less Sodium, Jalapeno, Hot & Spicy, Hickory Smoke, …with Bacon, …with Cheese, Oven Roasted Turkey, Garlic, Spread, Sandwich Slices

Make Em: Hawaiian Spam Musubi, Cheesy Macaroni Bake, Spamkins, Spam Benedict