Burgerology: Origin of the hamburger

Have you ever wondered who invented the hamburger and also why it is called a hamburger? Well, I did some research and here is what I came up with.

The name “hamburger” originated from German immigrants and dates back to the late 1880’s. The word came from the name of the town Hamburg in Germany. Here is what the Online Etymology Dictionary has to say:

hamburger
1889, hamburg steak, from the Ger. city of Hamburg, though no certain connection has ever been put forth, and there may not be one beyond that of Hamburg being a major port of departure for Ger. immigrants to U.S. Shortened form burger attested from 1939; beefburger was attempted 1940, in an attempt to make the main ingredient more explicit, after the -burger had taken on a life of its own as a suffix (cf. cheeseburger, first attested 1938).

To make meats more tender German immigrants would grind up beefsteak and the steak was named “hamburg steak”. That was later shortened and changed to “hamburger”.

Most agree that the origin of the name was from the German immigrants but there is a dispute who actually created the first hamburger, that is a ground beef patty between two pieces of bread.

I am going to cover all the claims to the first hamburger and let you decide which one is the right one.

Claim 1: First hamburger made in Seymour, Wisconsin in 1885

The first claim is that Charlie Nagreen (“Hamburger Charlie”) sold meatballs from his ox-drawn food stand at the Outagamie County Fair. Since meatballs were difficult to eat for the visitors at the fair he flattened them and placed them between two slices of bread. He called his creation the hamburger and was later known as “Hamburger Charlie”.

Hamburger Charlie

The town of Seymour, Wisconsin is so sure about this claim that they even passed legislation declaring Seymour, Wisconsin as the home of the hamburger.

Claim 2: First hamburger made in Akron, Ohio (or Hamburg, New York) in 1885
The family of Frank and Charles Menches of Akron, Ohio, claims the two brothers invented the hamburger while traveling at fairs in the early 1880’s. They ran out of pork for sausage sandwiches and they used ground beef instead. They mixed the meat with brown sugar, coffee and spices and served it as a sandwich between two pieces of bread. They called it the hamburger after Hamburg, New York where the fair was being held.

The brother in front of staff

The town of Akron, Ohio is so sure they are the home of the hamburger that they have an annual hamburger festival dedicated to Frank and Charles Menches.

Claim 3: First hamburger served in New Haven, Connecticut by Louis Lassen in 1900
According to family legend, one day in 1900 a local businessman came into the small New Haven lunch wagon and pleaded for a lunch to go. Louis Lassen, the establishment’s owner, hurriedly sandwiched a broiled hamburger between two slices of bread and sent the customer on his way, so the story goes, with America’s first hamburger being served.

Louis Lassen in his lunch wagon

Claim 4: First hamburger made in Athens, Texas in the late 1880’s
Fletcher Davis aka “Old Dave” a local pottery business man opened a lunch counter in the late 1880’s and some oral history support that he was selling an unnamed sandwich of ground beef between two slices of bread.

Fletcher Davis

Who really knows who made the first hamburger? Maybe someone out on the prairie made the hamburger way before any of the claims above. We will never know for sure. What we do know is that the invention made the hamburger what we all treasure today.

Sources:
http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/HamburgerHistory.htm
http://www.seymourhistory.org/news/?id=35
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis%27_Lunch
http://hamburgerhome.com/tolbert.shtml
http://www.geography.ccsu.edu/harmonj/atlas/burgers.html

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