Hamburger WhoDunIt Part VI: A Day In Hamburger History – September 18, 1885 – Everything is the Same, Except, “You Are There!”

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(The sixth part in a series of seven)

“What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times… all things are as they were then, and you were there.”

– Walter Cronkite, at the conclusion of each episode of the CBS Series You Are There

On this day, September 18th, 1885, the last day of the Erie County Fair, Hiram P. Hopkins woke up to threatening skies. While the weather appeared ominous, he breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t see the clouds as presaging rain. Rather, he saw the southwesterly breeze as ushering in unusually warm temperatures. In exchange, he’d accept the oppressive humidity.

In the early morning, before the expected thousands of fairgoers arrived, Hiram strolled the grounds. Just a day earlier, the place was packed, the crowd so dense it was difficult to move. This morning the only people Hopkins could see were the many vendors prepping their booths for the final day. Popcorn, peanuts and candy sellers had a brisk business the day before. The same was true of those selling lemonade, pop, and sandwiches.

As he passed close to the grandstand, he noticed two young men fretting about. It was Continue Reading “Hamburger WhoDunIt Part VI: A Day In Hamburger History – September 18, 1885 – Everything is the Same, Except, “You Are There!””

Hamburger WhoDunIt Part V: CSI: Hamburg(er), N.Y.

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(The fifth part in a series of seven)

“Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk..”

– Henry David Thoreau

And then there was one. Charles and Frank Menches were born in Canton, Ohio. Their father, Jacob Menches, an engineer in Prussia, immigrated to America and became a grocer in Canton. Their mother, Charlotte Hahn Menches, was originally from France. As young men, both boys were quite athletic. Charles as a well-regarded gymnast who travelled with a popular circus as a trapeze artist and high wire walker before he turned twenty.1 Frank, six years younger than Charles, was an award-winning bicycle racer.2,3

While the brothers’ lives contain several amazing stories, our focus here is on only one: Their role as (potentially) the first to sell a hamburg sandwich. How this story became known is itself a story. The brothers’ claim was widely known (the headline of Frank’s 1951 obituary reads “‘Inventor’ of Hamburger Dies.”4 The real story, however, lay hidden for half a century and was published decades after the brothers had passed away.Continue Reading “Hamburger WhoDunIt Part V: CSI: Hamburg(er), N.Y.”

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 Continue Reading “Hamburger Helper – Solving the Greatest WhoDunIt? In Culinary History”