The Hamburger – An American Story

Doodlewash History of Hamburgers An American Story Watercolor of hamburger on bun with onions and lettuce

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

Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. 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!
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49 Comments
  1. Carol 1 year ago

    I love a hamburger with everything on it, perfectly grilled by my dad. Yours looks scrumptious, Charlie! 🍔

  2. Oh my goodness, you’re gonna make me hungry all month! *grabs a plate* Wonderful job, Charlie! Are you and Jodi planning to illustrate a cookbook together?!

    • memadtwo 1 year ago

      Laura, that’s a perfect idea! Go for it Charlie! (K)

      • Author

        Like I told Laura…Jodi could it all herself! But we would have a hell of a lot of fun when the wine was poured. Hmmmmm…hehe

    • Author

      Thanks Laura!! 😃💕Hehe…I feel both bad and good for making people hungry. If I didn’t it would mean the sketch was bad! Lol And Jodi could do it all, recipes, photos AND illustrations…that’s a brilliant idea, then I could just be the taster!!! 😋😃lol

      • She totally could but if you two got together?! Fireworks! Just throwing it out there lol I’ve been trying to get her to write a cookbook pretty much since I started following her. So many things you each could do, both loaded with talent! I have a feeling your food month will be another hit, Charlie!

      • Author

        Thanks! Yeah… it’s a cool idea! And as you know… I’m totally about collaboration! We’ll see where this food month takes us!

  3. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 1 year ago

    Great story, Charlie. I think everyone knows how the ice cream cone was invented but I never thought about hamburgers. (Well, I’ve thought about them but never how they got invented.) Your painting is making me think about what to make for dinner. Maybe…

    • Author

      Thanks so much Sharon! 💕😃Glad ya liked this…I always think origins are fascinating, particularly when they’re shrouded in legend. And hope you had a hamburger!! Yum!! Hehe

    • Sharon Bonin-Pratt 1 year ago

      Certainly, only without the bun or burger or cheese – just the lettuce – otherwise known as a salad! LOL

  4. Susan Feniak 1 year ago

    Ohhh yummy!! The party has begun. Scrumptious looking burger Charlie. We don’t eat that many burgers around here these days either. But why not drool for awhile!? Fries too please. 🙂

    • Author

      Thanks Susan! 💕😃Yeah…I might have only 3 burgers in a year so it’s a big deal when I get to try one. We almost never eat meat, but that wouldn’t make for a good party. Need to bring something for everyone! Lol

      • Susan Feniak 1 year ago

        Hubby is a meat and potatoes kind of guy so I do have to serve up stuff I might not prefer. Yup something for everyone. Keep everyone in the party mood. Lol 🙂

  5. Sharon Mann 1 year ago

    Great looking hamburger Charlie, onions and all. The other day my husband was craving a hamburger so I just went up to the local Burger King and got him a whopper. Standing in front of me in line was Michael Jackson’s father. I didn’t say anything but I recognized him from photos I’d seen with very large piece gold he wears around his neck. Hehe,only in Las Vegas!!

  6. YesterdayAfter 1 year ago

    Heya Charlie! This hamburger looks great and is amazingly doodlewashed! Today I am coming to the dinner and I will bring dessert! <3 lol see you later 😉

  7. Teresa Robeson 1 year ago

    We’re trying to eat less red meat these day so we don’t do burgers very much…ground beef goes farther in a spaghetti sauce. 🙂 But your doodlewash is making me drool…darn it! <3

    • Author

      Thanks Teresa! 💕😃Hehe…yeah…getting a burger around here is like striking gold! Lol There won’t be another for months after we have one. But it’s good to dream! 😊

  8. Jodi 1 year ago

    Oh dear – your food paintings and my red wine at this hour are going to make me crazy! I want a burger right now. I think I’ll go get some cheddar goldfish. LOL! Great drawing and fun story!

  9. Jill Kuhn 1 year ago

    So it was Charlie and the Meatball Factory that invented this all American burger, huh?! ✨💕 😍 Lol! Great doodlewash, Charlie! I don’t eat much hamburger unless it is all natural but I do make a mean pickle burger with the dill pickles chopped up inside the patty. Oh, I’m hungry now! 😜🍴🍔🍟

  10. Kari 1 year ago

    That looks so yummy!! I actually doodlewashed today and it’s a cake! Lol. I do like the idea of illustrated cookbook!

    • Author

      Thanks Kari!! 💕😃 And yum!! I’m woefully behind on posts today, so I just snuck over to IG and had a peek…love it!! And yeah… and illustrated cookbook would be really cool!

  11. artandmoondreams 1 year ago

    Great painting, wonderfully fun back stories.

  12. YesterdayAfter 1 year ago

    Here Charlie there is my Dessert for the DoodlewashDinner 🙂
    https://yesterdayafter.com/2016/05/02/happy-may-national-chocolate-mousse-day-doodlewashdinner/

  13. Carmel Campbell 1 year ago

    I am a leaf eater…however your hamburger brings back memories. I especially like your rendering of the lettuce. Thank you for the story behind the hamburger.

    • Author

      Thanks Carmel!😃💕 Yeah… these days I’m more of a leaf eater as well. But was fascinated by the history when I stumbled across it. Hehe

  14. I would love to say your doodlewash looked scrummy, but I have never eaten a hamburger ( I might have had a taste when young, in the form of a bite) I just don’t like beef, being a nearly veggie, I will stick with the salad part, ( I don’t like the taste, of meat and only occasionally eat bacon, and some thin Parma ham, as the texture and taste is different). Not to be a bad apple, as so many will be round for dinner, I will be there for the conversation, which I can’t resist 😀

    • Author

      Hehe… Thanks Rebecca! 💕😃No problem with being a near veggie! hehe… Philippe and I are as well at home. But as a kid, it was impossible to escape a burger in America. In my McDonald’s Happy Meal I used to get the fish sandwich, though, but truth be told I really just wanted the fries. 😊

      • I don’t blame you, the fries are quite addictive…..I have the most fantastic recipe for a root veg crumble, it is the best veggie meal I have had in ages, I will try and find it, then post it on here, ( not drawn, as it looks boring and brown, lol )

      • Author

        Yum! Yes please! Sounds delicious! 😃

  15. jmnowak 1 year ago

    “…a yolk of oxen…” I love that image, the poor things….hahaha. How about a yoke of oxen? hahaha Your burger looks so scrumptious, I may indulge soon ‘tho I’m almost vegetarian too…you have a lot of vege friends, Charlie! Those sesame seeds look so real…

    • Author

      Lol… thanks Janina!😃💕 Yeah… I’m pretty much veggie now too, so it’s not surprising most of my friends are as well! But every so often, I’ll still have a burger, but it has to be amazing or I won’t bother.

  16. Jacob 1 year ago

    Man alive, this is absurdly tempting, and I say this having only just eaten! How silly of me to eat before coming to the Doodlewash Dinner 😉 But what a starter; I think burgers are one of my biggest weaknesses… as such, I try to moderate encounters to restaurants and barbecues (you can probably imagine how many barbecue-worthy days we have over here!) You’ve even made the lettuce look appealing – Little Jacob would have promptly removed that, along with anything else that wasn’t cheese or burger!

    • Author

      Haha… Little Jacob needs to eat his vegetables! Okay… little Charlie did the same exact thing, but I like the leaves and tomatoes now that I’m all grown up…well sort of a grown up. 😊hehe Glad I was able to tempt you with my doodlewash burger!

  17. Tom Merriman 1 year ago

    Your story makes sense, Charlie. I always wondered why hamburgers were so called when they were beef. Unless there are ham hamburgers and I haven’t tried them yet… great looking pic, by the way!

    • Author

      Thanks Tom! I’m not sure a ham hamburger would taste as good. Though around the same era I did have fried SPAM. 😊LOL But that’s another story entirely.

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