History of the Hamburger - Facts and Types

Hamburger is basically a type of sandwich. It has a ground meat patty that is cooked and placed between two halves of a bun or two pieces of bread or toast. It often has some condiments inside, like: mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles. Who precisely invented the hamburger, we don’t know for sure. We know that it appeared, in the shape that we know it today, in 19th or early 20th century and that it has predecessors that date to a 12th century.

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Nomadic Mongol’s of 12th century and their army were mostly cavalry and often, in their conquests, didn’t have time to stop for a meal. When they had to eat while riding they would place pieces of meat in skin and whole package under the saddle. Constant jogging minced the meat and the heat from the horse would cook it. This way of preparation came to Moscow with Mongols and was later named steak tartare. From there, minced meat came to the lands of today’s Germany through the port of Hamburg during the 17th century and became popular as a basis for their own dishes.

Hamburgh Sausage (which is made of minced meat and spices) appeared in 1763 in the cookbook with a name “Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy”. Jules Verne mentions steak tartare in 1875. During the 19th century Hamburg became one of the largest transatlantic ports in Europe and many northern European emigrants came to United States from this port. Hamburg steak appeared in the New York City in the 19th century. It was minced by hand, salted, smoked, and served raw with onions and bread crumbs and is considered precursor to the hamburger.

We don’t know who invented the hamburger because a little is written about it when it first appeared. Earliest text in a newspaper comes from Chicago Daily Tribune from July 5, 1896. The Library of Congress says that Louis Lassen sold the first hamburger in the United States in 1900. Charlie Nagreen claimed that he sold meatballs between two slices of bread at the Seymour Fair in 1885 and named them hamburgers after the Hamburg steak which was familiar to local German immigrants.

White Castle, a fast food chain, gives this honor to Otto Kuase who, in 1891, created a beef patty cooked in butter and topped with a fried egg which was later omitted. The family of Oscar Weber Bilby says that he invented the hamburger in 1891. Frank and Charles Menches claimed that they run out of pork sausages during the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, New York in 1885, and that they bought chopped up beef from a butcher. They started using it in their ground beef sandwiches. There is even menu from Delmonico's in New York which listed hamburger in 1834 but it was just a patty without buns.

Many others claimed that they invented hamburger but we will probably never know who did it first. That doesn’t stop the hamburger to be the staple food of many fast food restaurants in the world.

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