Well who would have guessed it, May is National Hamburger Month, so I decided to doodlewash one for the party! With the popularity of burgers across America, one would think the founding fathers were also eating them, but they actually didn’t burst onto the scene until the late 1800’s or early 1900’s depending on who you ask. The exact origin of this little meat sandwich is a bit of a mystery and has created quite a bit of controversy among hamburger enthusiasts.
Even if the American founding fathers didn’t eat them, there sure seem to be a lot of potential fathers of the hamburger. Many historians believe that a cook from Texas named Fletcher Davis, or “Old Dave,” was the inventor as his hamburgers made their national debut at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. But there are other stories, including one about a young lad named… well… Charlie.
The year is 1885, and a 15-year old boy by the named of Charlie Nagreen from Seymour, Wisconsin could be seen riding in a wagon pulled by a yolk of oxen. He was on his way to the Outagamie County Fair to make some money by selling his delicious homemade meatballs. Once there, he was excited to set up and start making the crowds happy with his amazing dish! He soon realized, however, that there was a huge problem with his new business idea. Walking around fairgrounds eating meatballs is ridiculously impractical if not a bit stupid.
Being a true entrepreneur, Charlie didn’t give up. He realized it would be much easier for people to eat and walk if he smashed his meatballs between a couple slices of bread. And so, the hamburger was born! Well, at least, Charlie himself claims he named it after Hamburg steak because it would make more sense to the many German immigrants living in the area. And the town of Seymour is so certain of this story, they’ve declared their town the home of the hamburger. But in that same year, a couple of brothers from Ohio were also cooking up some new ideas.
Frank and Charles Menches from Akron, Ohio used to sell food while traveling to various fairs in the country. As the story goes, at one particular fair they ran out of pork for sausage sandwiches and had to make a run to the local butcher. Instead of pork, they ended up with ground beef, but not to be dissuaded, they simply doctored it up with brown sugar, coffee, and spices and sold it anyway. Since they were in Hamburg, New York at the time, they dubbed their new creation a “hamburger” in honor of the town. There’s a hamburger festival each year in Akron to celebrate the brothers’ culinary achievement.
So who really made the first hamburger? I guess we’ll never know for sure. Though I don’t eat many hamburgers these days, they made my childhood totally awesome! So I say the inventor of the hamburger is whoever has a good story to tell about it. Each of the towns across America making the claim deserve to celebrate the stories that make their towns feel special. So happy Hamburger Month to anyone and everyone with a good hamburger invention story to tell this month. And thanks to each of these clever inventors from local lore who can rest easy in knowing there’s really only one question that truly matters. Can I get fries with that?
You’re all invited to a Doodlewash Dinner Party during the month of May! Just tag your food or drink image #doodlewashdinner and I’ll feature you and your culinary creations in a delicious Doodlewash Gallery at the end of the month!
About the Doodlewash
M. Graham watercolors: Pyrrol Red, Azo Orange, Gamboge, Permanent Pale Green, Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, and Neutral Tint. Lamy Safari Al Star pens with Platinum Carbon black ink in a 5″ x 8″ 140 lb. (300 gsm) Pentalic Aqua Journal
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Creator of Doodlewash®, founder of World Watercolor Month (July), World Watercolor Group™, and host of the Sketching Stuff Podcast. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!