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White Castle Hamburgers








Although we think of the hamburger as the quintessential American meal, the hamburger is a recent addition to the American diet (first served up at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair). For a long time hamburger meat, in all its forms, was considered a low-grade form of meat with highly questionable nutritional value and posed possible dangers from E. Coli. America stuck with pork, which was actually the number one selling meat.


 Eat some hamburger when a perfectly good and healthy pork chop is available? You think I'm Irish? You gotta be out of your friken' mind!


All that changed in 1921 when Edgar Waldo "Billy" Ingram opened his first White Castle Hamburger joint in Wichita, Kansas. Ingram partnered with short-order cook J. Walter Anderson who invented the hamburger bun in 1916.


White Castle's name was no accident. "White" and "Castle" were selected to help promote the idea that the meat was both clean and safe. The kitchen was moved from the back to the front of the house, intentionally exposed to patrons so they could see the raw beef was fresh and no hobo was being mixed in. So concerned was White Castle with American perceptions about burger meat being tainted that it used to boast fresh raw hamburger was delivered twice a day.


White Castle also hired a respectable scientist at the University of Michigan to conduct a test of the hamburger's nutritional value. For13 weeks the scientist fed a student nothing but White Castle hamburgers and water. The student was pronounced healthy at the end of the three-month ordeal. In some ways, the experiment never really ended on college campuses.


To help promote the idea that a visit to White Castle could be a nice family event, the chain started running coupons in middle-classed newspapers. White Castle was the first fast food restaurant to promote its business via coupons. It was also the first fast food restaurant to invent (and subsequently patent and manufacture) the paper food prep hat.


In 1942, White Castle added its famous five holes to its micropatties. It was found that adding the holes helped cook the meat more evenly. White Castle also patented this. The burger --small, greasy, with onion, encased in a bun steamed to a custard-like consistency -- became known derisively as the "slyder". Much in the same way Coca-Cola first rejected then accepted "Coke", White Castle has embraced (and trademarked) the term slyder for its burgers. Fries are known as "spikes".


While McDonald's likes to promote itself as having served billions and billions, White Castle was the first burger chain to break the billion burger barrier. It did so in 1954, just about the time Ray Kroc began expanding McSqueakies. The chain has sold over 7 billion burgers to date.


Although primarily a Midwestern chain (operating about 350 stores)White Castle has restaurants in Japan and Malaysia. The chain has long believed in slow, steady growth. New locations are opened using profits, not by borrowing. White Castle only opens about 20 new restaurants a year.


White Castle now distributes frozen, microwaveable burgers to grocery stores all over the USA. Check your frozen food section, next to the giant pretzels. White Castle formed its own frozen food distribution company after a highly publicized 1982 airlift of slyders to marines in Beirut. White Castle is actually a privately held company. It's still in the hands of the founder's family, run by the grandson, E. W. Ingram III.


 -- Karl Mamer








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