World’s Smallest Burger

The smallest hamburger in the world also comes from the first “fast food” hamburger chain: White Castle.

Known only to those in the Midwest and East Coast, White Castle was originally founded in Wichita, Kansas by Edgar W. "Billy" Ingram and J. Walter "Walt" Anderson in the year 1921.

Anderson was the man behind the burger, a small, thin, square burger steam cooked and smothered in cooked onions. It was only an ounce or two in weight and sold for 5 cents.

Ingram was the brains behind the operation, including helping to establish that first location in Kansas by a lease agreement for Mr. Anderson. Ingram then helped promote the hamburger, which was tainted due to bad publicity about the ground beef packing plants of earlier times, hence he came up with the name White Castle to signify purity and strength. Ingram also came up with the first paper napkin and those paper hats worn by all fast food workers.

With the success of their first operation they branched out opening other White Castle outlets around the area. Anderson was a pilot and often flew his biplane to do spot checks on the various White Castles operations around the country.

In 1949 an employee discovered that the patties cooked faster and better if you poked some holes into them. When the big bosses learn about this they had their square meat patties made special with 5 holes to help cook the meat evenly and without the need to turn the burgers over while cooking. This concept was patented in 1954, making White Castle the only hamburger to actually have a design patent!

The way they are made is somewhat unique to the industry. The cook up 30 of these burgers that measure just under 2 inches on each side on a bed of chopped onions using a steamed frying process that cooks them on both sides evenly (helped even more so by those 5 little holes). The buns are put on the top, the burgers taken off the grill and placed ontop of the bun bottom.

It was around this time frame in the late 1950's and early 1960's that one of our staffers began eating them while living in the Chicago area. Back then, they were selling for 15 cents each and you bought them “by the sack” as most people ate at least four of these mini burgers, which were given the name slyders by the company.

By 1961 they had sold a billion burgers when the Johnny come lately McDonald’s had only sold a million. Of course, since then McDonalds has outpaced White Castle, gone not only national but international and now sells billions and billions.

By 1970, after passing the 2 billion mark, they made a feeble attempt at shipping burgers to outside areas by airplane. A nice idea that didn’t seem to work very well and was eventually dropped from their menu!

Just before 1990 they started marketing frozen hamburgers to supermarkets for home use all around the world and by 1993 they were also putting White Castle burgers into vending machines, like those found in the workplace or at schools in the lunch area. In the retail restaraunts they offer sacks of 10 and suitcases of 30 burgers for big and bigger appitites!

Today the little burger, as some have come to call it (along with other terms such as “land of the Slyders” and “home of the Cravers,” “Belly Bombers,” “WC’s,” “G-Burgers,” “Castle’s,” “Greasers,” and “Sliders”) is priced around 80 cents and is still made the same patented way it was back in 1950!

The operation gets no respect, even in fast food circles, but among those in the “know” it is a cultural ICON. Anyone from Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York City and New Jersey knows and either loves or hates those little, greasy square burgers that are steam fried and covered with onions on a tiny biscuit sized bun!


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