The Fascinating History of the Hamburger

The hamburger is one of the most popular and beloved foods in the world. But have you ever wondered why it's called a hamburger? The answer lies in its fascinating history, which dates back centuries. According to Food Lovers Companion, the name hamburger comes from the port city of Hamburg, Germany. In the 19th century, sailors from this city are believed to have brought back the idea of shredded raw meat (known today as veal tartare) after trading with Russia's Baltic provinces.

This meat was then mixed with local spices and fried or grilled, becoming known as Hamburg steak. German emigrants to the United States brought steaks from Hamburg with them, and it appeared on New York restaurant menus in the 1880s. Hamburgers became a sensation at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, and soon spread across the country.

The idea of a hamburger doesn't stay in Germany for long. In the 13th century, Mongolian horsemen toured Asia while hiding raw meat under their chairs. This placement crushed the meat, softened it and made it suitable enough to consume it raw. Hundreds of years later, in 1747, Hannah Glasse's English cookbook The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy included a recipe for smoked minced meat sausage seasoned with tallow, nutmeg, garlic and other ingredients that came to be known as “Hamburg sausage”.

In 1802, more than 50 years later, the Oxford English Dictionary included the “Hamburg steak” in its publication and defined it as a “hard portion” of salted minced meat, often lightly smoked, mixed with onions and breadcrumbs. The “Hamburg” steak was considered high quality, gourmet and expensive. In the late 18th century, sailors traveling between Hamburg and New York City often ate hard pieces of salted minced meat, which they called “Hamburg steak”. When the Germans moved to the United States, they brought with them some of their favorite foods, such as the “Hamburg steak”.

Fast forward to 1873, when Delmonico's, a steakhouse restaurant located in New York City, opened its doors and introduced the “Hamburg steak” on its menu for a hefty price for a ten-cent period. Some people credit brothers Frank and Charles Menches with putting a hamburger between two slices of bread in the successful city of Hamburg, New York, in 1885. Although the first hamburgers were served between two slices of regular bread, there is solid evidence that the first hamburger served on a bun was made by Oscar Bilby of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1891. In 1900, Louis Lassen of Louis' Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut, served what could be the modern hamburger with minced meat between two slices of bread. After some setbacks with the publication of the novel The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, the world's first hamburger chain, White Castle, which opened in 1921, helped the hamburger take off in the United States. A study from the University of North Carolina showed that the average hamburger weighs 1.3 ounces more (23 percent more) today than it did in 1977. All of this to say that over time and through different cultures around the world, hamburgers have evolved into what we know them as today. As cities grew and travel became more common, some believe it was natural for the easy portability of hamburgers to become popular. The relatives of Oscar Weber Bilby claimed that he was the true inventor of the hamburger. So there you have it - an interesting history behind one of America's favorite foods! From Mongolian horsemen to German sailors to White Castle restaurants - hamburgers have come a long way.

Valerie Jhanson
Valerie Jhanson

Avid food enthusiast. Freelance coffee fan. Professional tv ninja. Hipster-friendly travel guru. Extreme thinker.