The origin of the Hamburger

You may think the origin of the hamburger involves a city named Hamburg… Guess what? You are absolutely RIGHT! However, there is much more to the story! The hamburger and the cheeseburger have national days assigned to their exclusive celebration. May 28th is National Hamburger Day and September 18th is National Cheeseburger day. Excellent reasons to celebrate, host a barbeque, and learn the unique origin of this delicious meal.

Who invented the hamburger?

Faded picture from the book Apicius that is said to contain the recipe for the Roman "hamburger"
This is a picture from the book Apicius that is said to contain the recipe for the Roman “hamburger”
Bonho1962, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The world does not agree on exactly WHO and exactly WHEN the Hamburger was invented. Hamburgers are an icon of America to the tune of over 50 billion eaten a year by Americans alone! The history of the hamburger is fascinating. If you are comfortable with multiple theories and perhaps more research on your own, Let’s dive in!

Hamburgers are NOT exclusive to America, the beef patty – what a hamburger actually is, is a worldwide food. In fact, the origin of the hamburger begins with the beef patty itself.

The earliest record of hamburger history is a recipe by the Ancient Romans in the 4th or 5th century. There is a recipe book containing minced beef that was formed into a patty. This shows us that hamburger history is centuries old, and we may never know the true inventor. If you’d like to try the recipe, there is a more modern day version HERE. In all honesty, all these particular burgers are lacking is the bun!

Defining the hamburger

What IS a hamburger? The definition will depend on who you credit with inventing it!

For example, in 1855, 15 year old Charlie Nagreen had the idea to help his meatballs sell better. He smashed meatballs between two slices of bread and began selling them at the fair, calling them “hamburgers” after the Hamburg Steaks that were popular at the time among the many German immigrants. Hamburger or meatball sandwich? You decide. In Seymour Wisconsin you can visit the Hamburger Charlie Statue! In Seymour, they consider Charlie Nagreen the inventor of the hamburger.

photo of the statue of "Hamburger Charlie" from Seymour Wisconsin.
photo credit: WIMHARTER, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What is the origin of the Hamburger?

Lets go way back to the origin of the hamburger. Inventing takes time and usually involves many people over time. One person improves upon what another does. With the hamburger we need to consider all the steps, including the Roman cookbook as well as Mongol leader Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan established the largest land empire in the early 13th century. He gave his warriors the finest steaks of the time. The problem was, they didn’t have time to stop, cook, and eat them. The soldiers began to put the steaks under their saddles. The heat and friction helped mince and cook the meat. These were more along the lines of perhaps Steak Tartare than hamburgers, but important none the less!

Fast forward to the 18th century. While traveling in Asia so Germans noticed the locals would put their meat under their saddle while they rode to help soften it for later. They thought this was a fantastic idea, and wouldn’t you know it…brought the idea back with them to: Hamburg Germany.

More time goes on, and the Germans develop their unique recipe of minced meat, garlic, onions, salt and pepper. The Germans take the minced meat and form patties. These are called Hamburg Steaks. When Germans immigrate to America, they introduce Hamburg Steaks there!

According to Passionate Foodie , In 1872 a review is written about a restaurant serving “Hamburg Steaks” . The apparent food critic enjoyed the meal in Washington D.C. but did not give many specific details.

After “Hamburger Charlie” placed his meatball between bread in 1855 another fair gives birth to a “hamburger”. This time in 1885 two brothers were selling pork sausage sandwiches in – of all places – HAMBURG New York. They ran out of pork sausage and their butcher suggested replacing it with ground beef. Frank and Charles Menches found the plain ground beef dry and tasteless so they added coffee, brown sugar and other ingredients to create a unique taste. They topped these sandwiches with ketchup and sliced onions. Legend tells us they named it the “hamburger” after the Erie County Fair’s home town of Hamburg, New York. We think this sounds a bit like a sloppy Joe… but again, you decide. The Erie county fair celebrates their own “Birth of the Hamburger Day” On September 18th every year.

History of the Hamburger Timeline

Most of the way we research “who invented (FILL IN THE BLANK) is by conducting a simple Google search. Complete this for hamburger and you meet: Louis Lassen, the owner of Louis’ Lunch. Louis was the owner of a lunch wagon in New Haven, Connecticut. According to Google, serving beef patties between toast equals hamburger. Louis is given the credit for inventing the hamburger. I tend to call this a patty melt (well if it had cheese!)

Each of these Burgers plays an important part in determining the history of the hamburger timeline. However, an important consideration is this: At this point, all of the “burgers” have been on bread, NOT buns!

images of a white castle restaurant and slider burger. Text reads: The world's first fast food restaurant.

In 1916 Walt Anderson invented BUNS especially designed for his hamburger patty. Five years later Walt, and Billy Ingram Made not only Hamburger History, but American history. These two partnered and opened the first fast food restaurant in THE WORLD! White Castle.

Learn the origin of the Hamburger

One of the most appealing things about the Hamburger is that it is appetizing to everyone, even vegetarians have their plant-based version! Basic beef burgers have evolved into: Turkey burgers, Chicken Burgers, Emu Burgers, Buffalo Burgers…any form of ground meat really! And the toppings… The sky is the limit. You can make your burger any way that pleases your taste buds!

Celebrating Hamburger Day, or the origin of the hamburger is as easy as Apple Pie…. Serve up your favorite ground meat (or veggie) burger patty with plenty of topping options and have a make-your-own burger party.

Happy Hive Homeschool put together a fantastic resource you can use to present the origin of the hamburger and a fast food timeline to your learners.

That timeline was very clear and, well, SURPRISING. I discovered McDonald’s was founded in “my backyard”, San Bernardino California. In fact, California is the birthplace for most fast food restaurants on the timeline.

Hamburger Holidays

May 28 – National Hamburger Day

July 28 – Hamburger Day

September 15 – Double Cheeseburger Day

September 18 – National Cheeseburger Day

If you would like to further explore the origin of the hamburger and create a timeline of fast food restaurants, we have a fun activity for you! This activity comes with a 20 slide presentation, a teaching video, as well as timeline activities your learners can create!

History of the hamburger product cover. Shows sample worksheets and a clip art hamburger with a smiling face.
Visit the Homeschool Holiday store or your favorite teacher marketplace to purchase!

We think it pairs well with our end of the school year craft: How our Year Stacked Up! This adorable hamburger stacking craft so versatile it can be an art project, and end of the year memory book or you can use it to accompany a literature unit. The burger pieces come with prompt, without prompts and as an EDITABLE PowerPoint file.

End of the year craft cover image. Shows completed craft: A giant hamburger in which students write reflections about their year.
Visit the Homeschool Holiday store or your favorite teacher marketplace to purchase!

Take a peek into the Hamburger History timeline resource here:

I hope you learned something new. If you haven’t already, sign up to follow our blog so you get an email notification every time there is a new post. (Left side, very bottom SUBSCRIBE via email) That way you can come back again for another fun Homeschool Holiday because – there is always something to learn!

With Love,

“Mrs. Crabtree”

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