Happy Birthday…or not

People are all a flutter of the 100th birthday of the Hamburger and its introduction at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. For those not in the know, the St. Louis Fair was a culinary seminal event, as it supposedly not only introduced the hamburger, but also Iced Tea, the ice cream cone, and the hot dog.

But just like those who think that the Earl of Sandwich invented the idea of meat on bread, the idea that the hamburger is 100 years old this year is false.

Ground beef on bread has been around ever since people have learned to grind meat. Steak Tartare was often served on bread, and it would take no great leap to actually form the ground beef into a patty shape and serve on bread. During the Middle Ages, thick blocks of coarse stale bread called trenchers were used in place of plates. Meats and other foods were piled on top of the bread to be eaten with their fingers.

According to “The Food Chronology – A Food Lover’s Compendium of Events and Anecdotes, from Prehistory to the Present, by James Trager”, as of 1836 yhe first printed American menu is issued by New York’s 5-year-old Delmonico’s Restaurant at 494 Pearl Street and list as one of its most expensive dishes “hamburger steak” The “bil of far” offer a “regualr dinner” at 12 cents and lists hamburger steak at 10 cents.

In 1885 Charlie Nagreen of Seymour, Wisconsin, at the age of 15, sold hamburgers from his ox-drawn food stand at the Outagamie County Fair. He went to the Outagamie County Fair and set up a stand selling meatballs. Business wasn’t good and he quickly realized that it was because meatballs were too difficult to eat while strolling around the fair. In a flash of innovation, he flattened the meatballs, placed them between two slices of bread.

So the hamburger is one hundred years old? Hardly. 1904 was the year that the hamburger (as well as iced tea, and the hot dog) became popular, thank in large part to the exposure garnered at the World’s Fair. The food, however, already had existed throughout the world.

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