White Castle: The History of Hamburger Restaurant Chains
National Hamburger Month has arrived, and restaurant chains are busy rolling out burger promotions to the delight of burger lovers across the country. As restaurants ring in the sales and customers take advantage of the deals, those on both sides of the cash register have White Castle to thank.
You see, White Castle, recognized as America’s first fast food chain, started National Hamburger Month back in 1992. What began as one restaurant chain’s marketing effort has grown, in less than 20 years, to become a strategic promotional opportunity for the entire restaurant industry. White Castle is again celebrating National Hamburger Month throughout May with special promotions and new menu items, but it is also in the midst of a year long birthday celebration. White Castle turned 90 on March 10th.
“White Castle is proud to be 90 years young,” Jamie Richardson, vice president of corporate and government relations recently said. “Since 1921, White Castle has remained true to its original mission and values. Our name says it all — White signifying purity and Castle signifying strength and permanence.”
White Castle began in 1921 when Billy Ingram and Walter Anderson scraped together $700 to open a small hamburger stand in Wichita, Kansas. The two men went about setting standards in place so that customers would receive the same quality burger each time they ordered. As more restaurants were developed, the company became known for its visionary restaurant system that offered a hygienic and properly prepared meal at a time when food safety regulations were quite lax. Ingram bought Anderson out in 1933 and the chain moved to Columbus, Ohio.
Besides giving birth to the fast food industry and standardization, White Castle is also credited with a number of other firsts. They were the first chain to package burgers in cardboard cartons for takeout, the first to advertise in newspapers, the first to run a coupon campaign and the first to market square burgers and use perforated burgers for even cooking.
In 1961 the chain celebrated the sale of its one-billionth burger. A year later the innovative double cheeseburger was added to the menu, featuring two cheese topped ground beef patties separated with a slice of bun much like the modern Big Mac. The chain continued to grow and today operates over 400 restaurants.
The number of restaurants may not compare in sheer size to the thousands of locations of other chains, but this is due to the fact that each location is company owned and not franchised. Over the years, this has helped the company weather many economic downturns because of a lack of debt to fund rapid expansion.
White Castle still offers the small thin, square patty hamburger known as The Original Slider. Topped with onions and pickles and sitting on a steamed bun, White Castles sliders have gained a loyal following known as Cravers. In 2001, White Castle launched the Cravers Hall of Fame, in which a select number of Cravers are inducted each year based upon entries judged by “brand loyalty, creative presentation, originality and magnitude of the crave”.
White Castle restaurants feature nine burgers on the menu. They all feature the same slider base but include toppings like A1 Steak Sauce, jalapenos and bacon. Feeling really hungry? There’s a Crave Case of 30 sliders available. Beyond burgers, the chain also sells Chicken and Fish sandwiches, a Pulled Pork sandwich, crinkle cut cheese fries, Onion Chips, Fish Nibblers and Chicken Rings. Breakfast Cravings items are also available.
While White Castle may not have locations in every state, it does offer its signature sliders in grocery stores across the country. You can even find them in select convenience stores, movie theaters and vending machines.
White Castle helped make the hamburger America’s favorite food, and changed the dining habits of a nation. 90 years later, it still serves up a mean slider. Hamburger fans owe it to themselves to experience what the first hamburger chain has to offer.