Hamburger WhoDunit Part II: The Shrine of the Four (and a half?)

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(The second episode in a series of seven)

“You will not apply my precept,” he said, shaking his head. “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

Illustration from the Monday, July 23, 1894 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle

Thus spoke crime fighting sleuth Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s second novel featuring his most-popular character, as published in the February 1890 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. By coincidence, the most noted hamburger origin stories occurred within a few years on either side of this date. It’s fitting, then, that we employ the deductive techniques of the Baker Street mastermind in attempting to solve one of histories greatest culinary mysteries: Who sold the first hamburger.

First, as in all good police thrillers, let’s take a look at our line-up of suspects (in reverse chronological order). In each case, their hometowns have created what amounts to a shrine to their claims. We count them as four and a half because two are inexorably tied together. Still, for our purposes we’ll untie them. Here’s the line-up:Continue Reading “Hamburger WhoDunit Part II: The Shrine of the Four (and a half?)”

Hamburger Helper – Solving the Greatest WhoDunIt? In Culinary History

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(The first part in a series of seven)

“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a Hamburger today.”

When J. Wellington Wimpy first voiced that phrase on December 28, 1934 in Fleischer Studios short “We Aim to Please,” Popeye’s 17th theatrical cartoon, [http://popeye.wikia.com/wiki/We_Aim_to_Please] the White Castle hamburger chain had already been around for 13 years. By the time E.C. Segar added the character of Wimpy to his King Features Syndicate cartoon Thimble Theatre in 1931, White Castle was well on its way to selling 50 million hamburgers. It would achieve that mark in 1941.

A year earlier, brothers Dick and Mac McDonald moved their father’s food stand from Route 66 in Monrovia, California to the streets of San Bernardino. They rechristened their restaurant “McDonald’s Bar-B-Q.” Eight years later they converted their carhops to self-serve and reduced the menu to burgers, fries, and milkshakes. They reopened their new fast food establishment on December 12, 1948 under the name “McDonald’s.”

That same year Harry and Esther Snyder opened the first In-N-Out Burger in Baldwin Park, California just outside of Los Angeles. It would be the first fast food restaurant in California to feature a drive-thru ordering and pick-up system. By 1958, on their ten-year anniversary, In-N-Out’s five locations celebrated by switching from bottled pop to fountain drinks. (In contrast, Wisconsin’s Sheboygan County celebrated the opening of McDonald’s 121st restaurant on June 19, 1958.)

A year later, in 1959, two Miami franchisees (and Cornell grads) by the name of James McLamore and David Edgerton would buy the faltering Insta-Burger King company. The duo immediately renamed it “Burger King” and expanded it to 250 restaurants by the time they sold the business to Pillsbury in 1967. (In contrast, McDonald’s opened its 1,000th restaurant in 1968 in Des Plaines, Illinois.)

The very next year, on November 15, 1969, Dave Thomas, after becoming a millionaire working for Colonel Harland Sanders, opened the first Wendy’s in Columbus, Ohio. Today, Wendy’s sports more than 6,000 locations. (In contrast, McDonald’s has more than 36,000 restaurants in operation today.)

Although the fast food business began in earnest at the outset of the roaring twenties, it took the logistical problem solvers of World War II to provide both the business model and the systems technology to get the industry as we know it today off the ground. Just how big is this industry? In the United States alone, fast food generated $200 billion in revenue during the year 2015 (according to the internet site Franchise Help). Worldwide revenues topped $570 billion.

Nearly every one of us has either worked at a fast food restaurant or knows someone who has. Today, the industry employs nearly four million people (per the Statista web-site). While encompassing many types of food today, it’s clear there is one item that spurred this industry: the hamburger. This makes the hamburger possibly the most important invention in all of mankind’s history.

Thanks in part to both government statistics and required disclosures of publicly traded companies, we possess a veritable cornucopia of data, information, and history over the past 100 years or so. Yet, the actual origins of the hamburger sandwich remain hidden in the cloudy realm of hearsay, hype, and hometown hope. Close your eyes for a moment and let’s explore these mysterious tales of the birth of the first hamburger…

Within the mists of time lie buried uncoverable answers to history’s most compelling questions. What really happened to the lost continent of Atlantis? How did ancient Greeks possess the technology to create the Antikythera mechanism and what did they use it for? Why did hundreds of people suddenly start dancing in the streets of Strasbourg during July 1518 and then, just as suddenly, die? Who was Jack the Ripper? And, finally, where did Amelia Earhart end up?

These questions pale to the ultimate mystery. It’s the mystery behind something that has touched us all and will continue to touch generations into the future. It’s the mystery behind a trillion-dollar industry. It’s the mystery behind something so simple, so common, so obvious, that no one bothered to write it down. It is, the birth of the world’s first hamburger.

Did the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis really inaugurate the “hamburg sandwich” as purportedly described in a New York Tribune article that same year and as taught by McDonald’s famous Hamburger University?

Or was the first hamburger made in 1900 at Louis’ Lunch, a diner in New Haven, Connecticut as reported by the New York Times and recognized as such by the Library of Congress?

Or did Fletcher “Old Dave” Davis first place a ground beef patty on bread in “the late 1880’s” as suggested by the Dallas Morning News?

And, if the hamburger really was first invented in 1885 either by Charles Nagreen at the Outagamie County Fair in Seymour, Wisconsin, or by Charles and Frank Menches at the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, New York, which fair occurred first?

Join me as we explore these various origin stories and use classic crime solving techniques to solve one of history’s greatest culinary whodunits in…

Sherlock Holmes and the Shrine of the Four (and a half?)

…continued next week…

 

John Cleese and the Affectionate Tease

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Many, many years ago, most likely 1985 but possibly 1986, I decided to do something different. I was living on Oliver Street in downtown Rochester. I hadn’t taken a vacation in a while and I needed to spend those precious vacation days or risk losing them. What to do… what to do…

Even now, I’m not the kind of person who dreams of the traditional vacation. In fact, I Continue Reading “John Cleese and the Affectionate Tease”

A Tribute to Animal House 40 Years in the Making

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The year was 1978. For some, it was to be remembered as “Peak Disco.” For others, (like me), it represented the beginning of the end for Disco. We kind of hoped the whole fad would blow over, but then that Beatles-wannabe group – the Bee Gees – went and made disco go mainstream with their soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever. For many fans, this was the low point of rock and roll. Thankfully, by the time Paul McCartney & Wings succumbed to Disco Fever when the band released “Goodnight Tonight” in 1979, the genre was already past its prime.

Music doctors officially called Disco on the night of July 12, 1979, when the Chicago White Sox hosted a Disco Demolition Night. The promotion featured an explosion of Disco records in between games of the twi-night doubleheader. Enthusiasm for the death of Disco turned out to be far greater than anticipated. The fans rushed the field following the fiery demise of those discs. The resulting damage to the playing surface caused the White Sox to forfeit the second game.

In the summer of 1978, that fiasco was still a year away. That summer, a different culture-defining event occurred. On July 28, Continue Reading “A Tribute to Animal House 40 Years in the Making”

A Confession from a Hypocrite: Alas, I, too, am a Free Rider

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It was the most regrettable thing I had ever done in my entire life. At the time I thought it was a giant step forward, a statement that, because of who I was, because of who we were, would make a difference.

Organizing the protest had other alluring advantages. Our teacher encouraged us. We respected her and she respected us. She treated us like adults. We liked that. It presented us with the ultimate reward: greater self-esteem. In addition, the entire class participated. That meant we could be with our friends, and all the social rewards that brings. Finally, only our class was allowed to participate. It was a reward for getting our schoolwork done in a timely fashion. There’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment to fill the soul with self-confidence.

Of course, it helped that we hooked our wagon to a national movement. It was the first Continue Reading “A Confession from a Hypocrite: Alas, I, too, am a Free Rider”

Why 7-15-60 is the Winning Combination of Every Group that Wants Lasting Influence

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Civic associations represent the backbone of a vibrant democracy. They have fueled American Exceptionalism since the very beginning of our country. But don’t take my word. Read what one of history’s most quoted experts had to say on this very subject.

“Among democratic nations, on the contrary, all the citizens are independent and feeble; they can do hardly anything by themselves, and none of them can oblige his fellow men to lend him their assistance. They all, therefore, become powerless if they do not learn voluntarily to help one another. …if they never acquired the habit of forming associations in ordinary life, civilization itself would be endangered.”

“Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations… The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools… Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.”

Continue Reading “Why 7-15-60 is the Winning Combination of Every Group that Wants Lasting Influence”

Today’s Columnists Find Their Roots in Revolutionary War Era Pamphleteers

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On the afternoon of June 9, while chasing the fugitive sloop Hannah, the unthinkable happened. The HMS Gaspee ran aground in low waters off the Rhode Island shore on what was then called Namquit Point. Unnamed Sons of Liberty, once alerted, sprang into action. In the early morning hours of June 10, before high tide could rescue the British man-of-war, the rebels boarded it, shot its commander, and burned the ill-fated vessel to its waterline.

The year was 1772 and the newspaper industry was dying. Of the thirty-seven weekly broadsheets published in the thirteen colonies, only eleven reported on what came to be known as “The Gaspee Affair.” By 1783, primarily due to lack of revenue and the logistical problems caused by the Revolutionary War, the Colonies would be down to only about twenty newspapers.

Still, the story of the Gaspee Affair stirred the American patriots. Why? Because an itinerant Continue Reading “Today’s Columnists Find Their Roots in Revolutionary War Era Pamphleteers”

Merrymaking in the ‘Nati

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The Championship Winners flank either side of the affable play-by-lay announcer. NSNC Photo

As I sat down to write this account, a profound thought struck me: It’s much easier to go from writer to talker than from talker to writer. I’ve been both. I’ve had fun at both. But never, until now, have I ever attempted to shift from play-by-play announcer to sportswriter. But here goes…

Named for George Washington’s Roman protégé, with a nod to that ancient empire’s capital the city of Cincinnati has long been called the City of Seven Hills. Indeed, for a hundred or so of the nation’s finest columnists, the undulating topography of Cincinnati’s inclined streets no doubt left an ache in the shins that echoed for several days.

Nonetheless, it was in this Queen City of the West that they gathered. At once to dine at the Mecklenburg Gardens – a dinner that lasted well past its “sell-by” date – and to cavort with the giraffes during happy hour at the Cincinnati Zoo.

For many, though, the highlight of the event wasn’t Jerry Springer apologizing for ruining the culture, or even George Clooney’s equally famous dad Nick regaling the crowd with stories of Walter Cronkite and ruffage. For attendees, and at least a handful of the hotel staff, the pinnacle of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists Annual Conference was Continue Reading “Merrymaking in the ‘Nati”

Graduates: How to Let Your Passion Become Your Talent

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It’s a perfectly acceptable question: How does a trained astrophysicist become a nationally recognized newspaper columnist? The answer, obviously, is by spending three decades working as a registered investment adviser.

OK, OK, maybe this requires some explaining.

Let me begin, however, by talking about you. You and I are very similar. We both want things we can’t have, we’re not “supposed” to have, and we aren’t even at the right station in life to come close to having. And there’s nothing wrong with desiring more – more renown, more wealth, more satisfaction. Don’t ever let someone tell you “You can’t do that.” Dream. Dream big. Never stop dreaming big.

Why?

Because such dreams spur you to far greater heights than you can imagine. They possess these three critical components for consistent success: Continue Reading “Graduates: How to Let Your Passion Become Your Talent”

You Can Create a Pleasant and Unforgettable Memory by Following These Three Rules

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It was a small planting bed, not more than 20 feet wide and three feet deep. Located beneath the cantilever on the north side of the family’s newly built raised ranch, the moist topsoil glistened in the summer shade. “You’ve got to mix it in with the old dirt,” said my father.

You could tell the difference. The dusty brown dirt stood apart from the rich loam we had just imported from the nursery. We spent that morning doing the rough work. We dug the hard clay and turned it over. Actually, Dad did that job. The dense dirt proved too tough for me and my brother, then mere pre-schoolers.

Our father, aware of our physical limitations, knew precisely the kind of activity that motivates young bucks like us. “OK, boys,” he said, “after I turn it over you come in behind me and Continue Reading “You Can Create a Pleasant and Unforgettable Memory by Following These Three Rules”