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The History Of The Hamburger
By: JamishT
Tags: Food

Oh, you think I'm going to talk about the time someone got the idea to put lettuce, sliced tomato, cheese, meat patties, and sliced pickle between two buns of bread? Nay, nay, my little minions, I couldn't make a good list out of that! I'm not going to look if there are any lists like this, because I came up the concept late one night and I don't want to feel like I'm copying someone...so without further ado: the history of the hamburger (the list version).

Bun (Part One)


Buns are unique in that they are both the roof and foundation of a burger. Also, they’re a requirement for anacondas to want any of anything, according to reputable herpetologist Sir Mix-A-Lot. In this first entry, I'm going to take a brief look at the history of bread (which is what hamburger buns are made of, in case you didn't know). Bread has an extensive history, so it’d be Americans-On-July-4th levels of crazy to try to cover the history from 4000 B.C. until now, so I’ll make it as quick as possible.

”What happened last night?” –Freedom on July 5th

Back when Mesopotamia was referred to as “guh rah mar las!” (which is caveman speak for “place where that other people live, so let’s club them to death!”), they started growing wheat for some reason. People theorize that they first nibbled on wheat straight from the stalk, which is done to this day but we call it eating Kashi cereal. Some lucky duck discovered that you could mix wheat and water into a paste and eat it like soup. I like to imagine someone in that clan got tired of eating wheat soup and decided to leave his bowl on the fire, because everything looks better in the middle of a fire.

Even people!

Letting the wheat/water mix dry out created a kind of flatbread, that was discovered (most likely by lazy incompetence) to last longer than other foods. It wasn't long when someone bumbled some yeast into the dough like a prehistoric Jerry/Larry/Lenny/Gary/Terry Gergich, but that turned out to be a good thing, because yeast makes bread rise like Republicans at one of [insert any name] Bush’s speeches. The Egyptians somehow found out about this development and isolated yeast as the culprit and started putting into new batches by itself, rather than saved bits of dough from previous batches. Some theorize that this isolation of yeast led to the invention of beer, but that’s for another day.



Let us discuss this leafy plant, shall we? I'm sorry for that, I really am. I'm not sorry at all! Anyway, it seems that lettuce has quite the history, and it begins with the Egyptians. Well, the recorded history of lettuce starts with those pyramid builders in paintings that are generally dated around 2500 B.C., but we’re not sure how or where else people started cultivating it before then. Lettuce production and consumption eventually reached Europe around the 15th century, with new types and variations being developed along the way. In fact, the last type of lettuce was developed in 1941 with the invention of the iceberg type of lettuce.

They sank a lot into developing that particular type of lettuce.

Lettuce has gone through some pretty dramatic changes in recent history. Around 1970, Europe finally figured out that Americans had found something delicious in iceberg lettuce, and its popularity exploded. Also around the same time, lettuce started to be pre-shredded and premixed into salad kits, which led to the popularity of types of lettuce other than iceberg in America. As of 2002, 40% of commercial lettuce production was non-iceberg, and a large majority of that 40% was romaine lettuce, the base of Caesar salad.



The tomato is seemingly omnipresent in the food world these days, but that was not always the case. In fact, up until the 1800’s most Americans believed that tomatoes were poisonous and only grew them for decoration. The tomato got its start in Central/South America in the area that is now Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, but there is little evidence that the Aztecs and other Native Americans used it much. One interesting aspect of the tomato’s history is that while non-native Americans thought of it as being poisonous for such a long time, the Spanish were eating them since 1550. Historical writings show that while the Spanish, the French , and other mid-Europeans were eating them, they weren't a staple but rather a curiosity.

This kid is wondering how tomatoes will affect the way his boogers taste.

Thomas Jefferson did a lot of things and women that made him seem progressive for his time. One thing he did was grow and consume tomatoes, leading to a little more acceptance in America for the apple of love. Oh you've never heard it referred to as the apple of love? Me neither, but apparently that was once a thing, thanks to the French either mistranslating Spanish or calling it an aphrodisiac. Anyway, the weird thing about the tomato is that while it originated in Central/South America, it was introduced to North America by Europeans. Today the FDA estimates that the average American eats 20 pounds of tomatoes per year.



The history of cheese is far too broad to cover in a few paragraphs, so I'm going to cover the history of my personal favorite cheese to put on a burger: Swiss. Apparently Americans are the only people to refer to this particular cheese as Swiss cheese, Europeans call it Emmental cheese. Regardless of technicalities, I'm going to call it Swiss cheese throughout this article because I'm American.

These soldiers are leveling that walkway using the weight of freedom.

Swiss cheese was first developed in the Emmental region of Switzerland. So far, it’s all pretty logical. For the first couple centuries, cheese in general was much like today’s cottage cheese, but then in the 15th century the Swiss figured out that adding rennet to the cheese made it solidify. What’s rennet? It’s a substance found in the stomach lining of calves. Think about how that discovery was made.

”Why are you looking at me like that?”

The holes in Swiss cheese are made by carbon dioxide bubbles that formed as the cheese matures, and the carbon dioxide is a result of the gram positive bacteria that is introduced to the cheese cultures at the beginning of the cheese making process. Swiss cheese made its way to America in the 1800’s with Swiss emigrants (including the Amish). A variation of Swiss cheese was developed in 1960 in Charm, Ohio (which is in the middle of Ohio’s Amish country) by Alfred Guggisberg (definitely not an Amish name) called Baby Swiss (it has smaller holes and a slightly different taste). I can tell you from personal experience that it’s delicious.

Ground Beef


Since we humans figured out how to domesticate cows, beef has been a part of the human diet. The idea of grinding or mincing beef and eating it as such can be traced back to the Mongols, specifically those that conquered a good portion of Europe in the 13th century. One of the ways they prepared meat was by shredding , sometimes mixing in some spices, and eating it raw. The Romans called these Mongols “Tartars”, and still today that type of meat dish is known as steak tartare. Anyway, it wasn't long before someone fried up some steak tartare and discovered that it was quite delicious. Recipes for chopped beef sausages had been around America since 1758 with the publication of “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” by Hannah Glasse.

Plain and easy also describes your mother, but we won't talk about that.

Chopped beef sausages were developed in Hamburg, Germany, leading to it being called Hamburg sausage. Americans correlated the idea of ground beef with Hamburg so much that when meat grinders came into popularity and cookbooks started including recipes for it many called it "Beefsteak à la Hamburg." By the early 1900’s ground beef had become basically what it is today, generally being twice ground with onions and spices mixed in.

Bun (Part Two)


We've learned about the history of bread, now what about the concept of having a bun specifically for hamburgers? We can trace that back to 1891, when Oscar Weber Bilby served up his sandwiches on something other than slices of bread during Fourth of July festivities. That's right, non-Americans, you too can celebrate the Fourth of July, but instead of celebrating the birth of the best nation in the damn world, you can celebrate the invention of hamburger being served on buns!

A worthy cause for celebration, I think.

But wait there’s more! In 1916, in Wichita, Kansas, a line cook named Walter Anderson set out to develop buns specifically for his hamburgers. The aforementioned Mr. Bilby had used pre-existing buns, but Mr. Anderson (no relation to the character from The Matrix spent time adjusting the density of his buns (heh) until he had developed what we now know as the hamburger bun. He then quit his job and bought an old trolley car that he retrofitted into a restaurant. In 1921, he started the White Castle Hamburger chain that is still going strong to this day. Man, those Wichita culinary types sure know what they’re doing!

Especially this guy

There ya’ have, folks! Now you know the backstory to one of the most delicious snacks in America. …Wait people eat these as meals!?!

Banner Image Attribution- cyclonebill from Copenhagen, Denmark - Burger Uploaded by FAEP
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