I SUPPOSE I’VE GRILLED a million burgers. Fast food joints all over sell hamburgers by the billions. There must be a zillion of these places. Zillions, billions, millions…math is not my strong suit but I know that’s a lot.
Yet the history of the invention of the hamburger is murky at best. Six different 19th Century food purveyors are variously considered to be the innovator of this now common meal, and whatever the truth is has faded into ground beef history.
LOUIS LASSEN, who had a lunch wagon in New Haven, Conn. in 1900, is one contender for the honor of having invented the now omnipresent burger. CHARLIE NAGREEN, aka “Hamburger Charlie,” sold meatballs between two slices of bread at the Seymour (Wisc.) Co. Fair in 1885, and so he makes the cut. OTTO KUASE, who created a beef patty in 1891 (acc’ding to White Castle), is a contender. OSCAR WEBER BILBY, said to have served the first known hamburger on a bun in Tulsa, OK in 1891, is on the list. FRANK & CHARLES MENCHES, after running out of pork sausage in 1885, substituted a ground beef sandwich at the Erie Co. Fair in –ready?—Hamburg, N.Y. Finally, FLETCHER DAVIS, at a lunch counter he ran in 1880s Athens, Texas, sold ground beef patties with mustard and Bermuda onion between two slices of bread with pickle on the side. My personal favorite is the Menches brothers, since their story is the only one that actually explains the name, and they are most often tapped by burger historians as the inventors of the hamburger. Since it doesn’t include ham, and since the Menches brothers accomplished their feat in the city of Hamburg, logic would nominate them as the gastronomic heroes. Notice there’s no one named McDonald on this list. They didn’t start slinging burgers until 1948.