The History of the American Hamburger

Is there a more quintessentially American food than the burger? At Johnnie’s Charcoal Broiler, we think not! You may know that you can find the best burgers in Oklahoma City at our restaurant, but burgers can be found on nearly every menu in the country. You could also argue that fast food chains would be lost without the popular food. The hamburger and cheeseburger are pretty simple foods — so simple that you might wonder exactly where they came from. Like many important and popular things in history, quite a few different people have claimed to be responsible for inventing the hamburger. To make things easy, we’re going to focus on the history of the hamburger in America.

In the mid-19th century, chopped, chipped, and ground beef was very popular. For a while, people even thought that raw chopped beef could help with digestive issues. At the same time, German immigrants were coming to America and their Hamburg-style chopped steak was popular with both immigrants and Americans. Around this time meat grinders were also becoming popular — and not only in restaurants, but also in American homes. All of these things helped set the stage for the hamburger, but the popular food really took off in the late 19th century.

Lunch wagons, roadside restaurants, and traveling fairs and shows became very popular during the last few decades of the 19th century. These relied on cheap, easy-to-prepare foods to serve their customers, which is how hamburgers exploded onto the scene. Around this time, a lot of different people were starting hamburger crazes in their own cities, states, and towns. The Menches Brothers were residents of Hamburg, New York, and claimed to have created the hamburger in 1885 during a country fair where they ran out of sausages for sandwiches and decided to use ground beef. Ironically, the same year another fair food allegedly became the first hamburger. Charlie Nagreen lived in Seymour Wisconsin, and supposedly made sandwiches out of the meatballs he was selling by putting them on a bun.

While these vendors and several others had a hand in the creation of the hamburger, the Library of Congress gives credit to a Danish immigrant named Louis Lassen for selling the first hamburger and steak sandwich in the United States. Louis Lassen opened his lunch wagon (called Louis’ Lunch) in 1895, and it is believed that he created the classic American hamburger in 1900 when he put a ground steak patty between two slices of white bread for an office worker.

As you can see, the hamburger wasn’t created by a single person. The next time you have one of our fabulous burgers at Johnnie’s, think about all of the people that made it possible. Or check out our menu today!