History of the Hamburger

Hamburger - yummy!
Hamburger - yummy! | Source

How Would You Like Your Meat? "Raw" or "Flat and Raw"?

Food historians have been arguing about who ate the first hamburger for centuries and this article will not claim to know the answer but there is enough evidence to suggest that even those building the Pyramids enjoyed a ground meat lunch as they pondered how they were going to move that shaped rock that distance.

The ancient Egyptians enjoyed numerous foods, including bread but there is no evidence that any of these Royal Pyramid workers, with their daily meat allowance (a perk of working on royal tombs - let's face it, they died at the end of the project!) deemed it necessary to place their meat allowance inside of two pieces of their emmer wheat loaf.

By Sayf al-Vâhidî. Hérât. Afghanistan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Sayf al-Vâhidî. Hérât. Afghanistan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Ghengis Khan And The 'Mongol' Hamburger

So for many centuries the Egyptians and others in the East took their beef, goat or lamb raw.

Basically it was chopped up and eaten with whatever other food was to hand.

Ghengis Khan, ruler of the Mongol army, perhaps one of the greatest army of cavalrymen in history made sure his men were well fed. Ghengis was not known for hanging around - this meat was truly the first 'fast food'.

In the 13th century, his men placed meat wrapped in cloth beneath their saddles so that it was readily available when they were hungry and very easy to carry.

Their saddles had acted as meat tenderisers. Each canter and gallop of the horse aiding the pummelling of buttock against saddle - the meat patty was super-flat, easier to eat and very tender.

So far, so Atkins Diet!

East Meets West - The First Imported Hamburger

The Mongols next leader Kubulai Khan invaded Russia in 1238, bringing their new saddle tenderised meat to the palates of an unsuspecting Russian populace.

Thankfully, and maybe because they were too scared to do otherwise, the Russians started to make their own tenderised meat patties.

The area that the Mongols invaded became, eventually, Tartarstan and the tenderised raw meat, originally created under Mongol saddles became known as Meat Tartar.

In time, German sailors from Hamburg visited port and delighted with the delicious meat tartar took the idea back home with them to Hamburg.

Over time, they added their own herbs and spices and the former meat tartar made its way over to the USA, made by German Hamburg-born immigrants.

Hamburger fully clothed - lettuce, pickle, tomato, cheese, ketchup and a stylish bun!
Hamburger fully clothed - lettuce, pickle, tomato, cheese, ketchup and a stylish bun! | Source

"I'm really hungry - can I have bread with mine?"

By the 18th century, Germany had some of the biggest ports in Europe and many of the sailors partook of the 'Hamburg steak' in the port of Hamburg.

In time, in US ports, traders would make their own versions of these Hamburg steaks to sell to German sailors in port.

Not a bun in sight! But the clever burger sellers had already started to mix in seasoning, onion and breadcrumbs to 'bulk' up the meat and make it go further - early signs of capitalism in action!

So who DID invent the American version of the Hamburger - the one we all know and love? Seasoned beef, chargrilled sandwiched between 2 halves of a soft white bun, with cheese, salad and pickle?

Here are the main contenders - none has yet been definitively chosen as THE inventor of the hamburger so they all must share the honour of possibly creating the first one in the USA.

Fletcher Davis
Fletcher Davis | Source
Menches Brothers
Menches Brothers | Source
Charlie Nagreen
Charlie Nagreen | Source
Louis' Lunch - still going strong today
Louis' Lunch - still going strong today | Source

Hamburger 'Inventors' Hall Of Fame

  • Fletcher Davis - As early as 1880, Fletcher Davis was selling the humble hamburger at his cafe in Athens, Texas. It is rumoured that he took this creation of cooked meat patty in two slices of bread to the Worlds Fair in St Louis in 1904.

Food historian, Frank X Tolbert, a Texan with a love of Texan food (especially chili) made the claim about Davis in his column in the Dallas Morning News based on his own research but in a country the size of the USA, can anyone really prove that Fletcher Davis made the 1st hamburger?

  • Menches Brothers - Frank and Charles Menches from Hamburg, New York created the hamburger from meat patties when they ran out of sausages at their restaurant. The brothers then demonstrated their new creation at the Erie Fair in 1885.


  • Charlie Nagreen - Charlie Nagreen was selling meatballs at his stall in Seymour, Wisconsin when he realised that people wanted the meatballs to be cooked faster and started to squash them flat in order to chargrill them more quickly. Nagreen remains a legend in Seymour, honoured with his own rather modernist statue. He was also selling them at a 'fair' - a pattern sems to be emerging about 'mass production'. He also served the patty between slices of bread.


  • Oscar Bilby seems to be the first American to serve the meat patty in a bun. He had his own stall at a Fourth of July Party at his farm in 1891. His wife's freshly baked buns provided a much better substitute for basic bread slices. So is Tulsa the real home of the hamburger?


  • Louis' Lunch, a small road truck in New Haven, Connecticut created a flat meat patty which was broiled on a vertical cast iron stove. The Library of Congress has suggested that this was the first hamburger as we know it today - broiled or chargrilled meat patty on a bun with 'fixings'.



How Do You Like Your Hamburger?

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History of the Hamburger - Weighing Up The Evidence

So who wins the coveted award of inventor of the first hamburger?

I would suggest that they all do. Isn't food production or process an organic skill? Which of us has not tried over the years to create the ultimate hamburger when entertaining guests at a barbecue?

Didn't we all start with a generic idea of what a hamburger should be?

Based on our own favourites from McDonalds, Wendy's, etc?

And maybe we even visited Amazon and bought a Hamburger press and created our own burgers from scratch.

So the history of the hamburger is one filled with conjecture, rumour, interesting European and Asian genesis (thanks heavens they didn't stick with the saddle tenderiser), maritime export, early entrepreneurial skills and finally succulent, tender, tasty mass production.

And the next time you sit down to one of these mass produced, or home produced beefy treats, consider this - to get it to you the way you really like it took eight hundred years! And far from being an 'American' food, the humble hamburger is perhaps, one of the most cosmopolitan of foods?

I write this as the UK and other European countries find themselves in the grip of a scandal - horse meat has been found in kebabs, lasagne, processed minced beef and hamburgers.

Ironic that the first 'hamburger' also started with the help of a horse!

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Comments 38 comments

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Ooh, Stephanie, you can make me a burger if I ever visit the USA again - l love thousand islands dressing and this burger sounds delish!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

Charcoal broiled hamburger with lettuce, tomato, melted cheese and Thousand Island dressing on a bun! Homemade, please! :) This was a fascinating hub! Voted up and shared!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Deb, many thanks for reading - I do like cheese on mine but would still enjoy one without and I love those little dill pickles that you get in America on a burger - yours are better than the UK version :)


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 3 years ago from Iowa

This is a fun and interesting hub. I just had to chime in to say no cheese on my hamburger, please. But it has to have some veg - lettuce, tomato, and even a little onion - ketchup, mustard, mayo and lots of pickles! Mmm, now I'm hungry!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Hubert, many thanks for reading - I hear that kangaroo is very tasty and also healthier than beef so I bet yours was very tasty - but it would need to be cheaper than beef to get in a UK hamburger at the moment :o)...Oh, and we have no kangaroos of course :o)


Hubert Williams 3 years ago

I love hamburgers, even the rumored McDonald's kangaroo in the beef hamburger of my youth. Horse meat you say? It is reportedly legal to buy, sell and eat horse meat in Oklahoma. Saddle up.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Dianna, Ha Ha, that's the trouble with reading food hubs! They make you crave food. Thanks so much for your comment.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

Great history lesson on such a popular food choice. I prefer mine plain with just tomato, pickle and onion. I would love one now!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Vicki, thanks for your comment. It was mainly written in response to the furore going on over horse meat being found in processed beef products in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. I rather like the fact that horses were involved at the very beginning, don't you :o)


Vickiw 3 years ago

This is so well written and well-researched, while still managing to keep great gobs of fun. Prefer mine cooked, with home made buns, tomato, lettuce, pickles and mayo. Great Hub


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

torrilynn, thanks for reading - yup, it certainly has a very interesting history doesn't it?


torrilynn profile image

torrilynn 3 years ago

jools99, nice hub. i never though that something such as the hamburger would have such an interesting history behind it. thanks and voted up.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Ish, thanks for your comment. Yup, Britain is in the grip of a food scandal, horse meat has been found in processed beef products like burgers and lasagne. I don't eat burgers from supermarkets so I am not worried about my own consumption.


ishwaryaa22 profile image

ishwaryaa22 3 years ago from Chennai, India

Wow! An extremely well-researched and engaging hub! I learnt a lot from this hub of yours! Horse-meat? I am surprised! My favorite hamburger stuffings are veggie pattie, little mayo, dash of ketchup, crunchy lettuce leaf, tomato slices & shredded cabbages! Once again, a wonderful hub! Way to go!

Thanks for SHARING. Useful, Awesome & Interesting. Voted up & shared


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

GRL, Glad it had the desired effect; glad they are made in a normal way though, would not fancy one from under the saddle of a horse :o)


Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 3 years ago from Riga, Latvia

Voted up. Give me a juicy hamburger anytime. Yum! You made me hungry. Nice to know the history behind it. Passing this on.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Alecia, thanks for your comment. To be honest, I am sitting here with my tummy rumbling and I think a hamburger may be just the thing to stop that growling :o) Sadly, I am only having an egg salad sandwich....no burgers in the fridge due to the latest horse meat scare!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 3 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

You're a woman after my own tastebuds! I just ate a hamburger and it was awesome :)!

I didn't know that Ghenghis Khan was a part of the history. But it makes since that people have needed their food to be portable to do things.

I know in the States, alot of people argue over who is the father of the hamburger but it shouldn't matter- the result is a tasty treat.

I like my hamburger with ketchup and onion! Great hub :).


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

europewalker, I am intrigued, is it just a burger with guacomole or other Mexican twists?


europewalker profile image

europewalker 3 years ago

Interesting hub. My husband loves his hamburgers. I don't eat one very often but when I do I make sure it is a good one. My choice is a quacamole burger. It is so good:) Voted up and interesting.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Ha Ha Martin! Maybe my next one might be about you - 'there once was a poet on HP'.....


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 3 years ago from San Francisco

Whew... I thought this was going to be about me. :)) This was much better. Thank you.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Bill, thanks for reading and glad I got the main points covered :o) Bacon on a burger....I can take it or leave it!


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

I actually had to write about this for a customer, so I knew most of this. Good job on it. How do I like mine? Double patty, two cheeses, mayo and bacon. :)


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Jane, thanks for reading. Glad you enjoyed your hamburgers today!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

sgbrown, many thanks for your comment. I like my burger well done as well but still succulent but I don't like a toasted bun :o) It's got to have cheese on it and chilli and a smidgeon of mayo as well. Isn't it funny how we all like them the way we do :o)


Jane Holmes 3 years ago

Hi Jools99, What a great hub! I never questions the history of the hamburger! So interesting! I just ate them! I will check out your other hubs as well. Keep up the good work! I will follow you...


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 3 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

What an interesting hub. I had never really thought about where the hamburger originated but I really enjoyed finding out. Who would have thought, under the saddle of a horse! I guess it worked for them. I like mine well done, but not dry, all the fixin's and a toasted bun, please. Voting this up and socially sharing! :)


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Mary, many thanks for reading. To be honest, I only eat a hamburger about twice a year but I do eat vegetarian hamburgers almost every week. I never buy them for home because hubby will not entertain one! When I was in the states in 1988 for the second time, I discovered Wendy's and it remains my favourite hamburger. In Britain we sometimes call them Beefburgers, though lately they've been more horse meat than beef - oh dear!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Martie, Thanks for your comment. Raw meat would not be any good for my palate, I'd be gagging because I knoew it was raw! I can't do suchi for the same reason :o)


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

You are probably my hubby's new idol! His favorite food in the world is a hamburger and always has been. He's a true hamburger lover and if he doesn't have it at least once a week for dinner I'm in trouble.

When I was a kid my grandmother used to eat 'steak tartar' with raw onion and I would sit there in awe 'case there was no way I was eating raw meat!

This was so interesting. Who would ever have guessed the true beginnings of the hamburger?

Voted up, useful, and very, very interesting.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 3 years ago from South Africa

Very interesting hub, Jools! And now I am hungry for a hamburger and nothing else :)

Btw, I just can't imagine eating raw meat, unless it is thoroughly dried.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Mary I just knew you would make your own and I bet they knock a Big Mac into a cocked hat, they're so good! I look forward to eating one out in your garden the next time I'm in Florida :o)


mary615 profile image

mary615 3 years ago from Florida

My kids expect a homemade hamburger at once a week. It's a family favorite. I try to steer them away from fast food burgers, though. My boy just wants his with a slice of American cheese. I like everything on mine.

Interesting history of the hamburger. Voted UP, and shared.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

carol7777, I wonder how many people have researched the humble burger over the years? I think its somewhat organic creation, evolved over 800 years is part of its charm. Thanks so much, as always, for your comment, much appreciated.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

ImKarn - Many thanks for commenting. We like our burgers the same way, I prefer fried onion on mine and some chili, yup... though I do have a soft spot for the 'secret sauce' on Wendy's burgers. I need to do internet research to see if I can make my own :o)


ImKarn23 profile image

ImKarn23 3 years ago

LOL..wellllll- who knew? (besides YOU, of course)

What burger-research you've done here - LOVE how saddles would tenderize meat - i can see how it would, actually...

and - you mean to say that hamburgers came - OMG - WITHOUT buns??? Say it isn't true..lol..

yes, i'll have mine with bun, with cheese, with fried onions, with chili - and with pretty much anything else...lol...

(can ya tell i'm a definite carnivore?)

sharing..


carol7777 profile image

carol7777 3 years ago from Arizona

What a fun hub..I learned something new here for sure. Thanks for sharing ..Pinning.

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