The History of the Hamburger

By Eva Freeburn, Public Relations Director

May is National Hamburger Month and most Americans will proudly celebrate with cookouts and tailgates this Memorial Day weekend. It’s no secret that we love our hamburgers hot and juicy, with a side of salty seasoned fries, some type of baked beans and an iced tea or cold beer to wash it all down.  However, few people know where the hamburger got its start.

I’m sure we all assume it was in Hamburg—the name gave it away—but there is more to the story!  In the late 19th century, a New York restaurant served a dish called the Hamburg Steak that featured a minced beef filet, salted and smoked, served raw with breadcrumbs and onions, and occasionally with a raw egg. Although this sounds more like the precursor to meat loaf than to our beloved hamburger, the minced meat was the crucial step that first gave us the burger patty to sandwich between two buns.

Before the minced meat mania, around the year 1765, English aristocrat John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, coined the term “sandwich” to describe his preference to eat his food between bread so as to not dirty his fingers while he played cards. Though the sandwich had its origins in Sandwich, by Sandwich, it was never written into a recipe until Elizabeth Leslie Cook included the sandwich in her cookbook in 1840.  This was the beginning of sandwiching meat between bread in U.S. cuisine. Interestingly enough, the sandwich trend coincided with the rise of fairs, festivals, and amusement parks as a staple of American outdoor fun.

A local fair-man named Charlie Nagreen of Seymour, Wisconsin, wanted his fair-goers moving about the festivities from booth to booth while eating instead of stopping to sit and eat. So Nagreen put this minced meat patty—the Hamburg Steak—between two pieces of bread. And we have: the hamburger. Though there is debate on the first innovation of the hamburger and by whom—with potential discovery dates ranging from 1885 to 1904—what remains true is that we can celebrate the hamburger today in all of its cheesy, franchised glory! And for that we are grateful.

Bright Sky Press.
Where Texas meets books. Hamburgers.