John Menches [CEO of Menches Bros. Original Hamburgers] had always been told his great-grandfather invented the hamburger in 1885. But for decades, this was little more than legend and lore at family reunions. Then in 1991, Menches and his siblings stumbled across the original recipe among some old papers their great-grandmother left behind. So, they took out some ground beef, added brown sugar, coffee, and some other ingredients, and discovered one great hamburger.
There are a few different stories detailing the origin of the hamburger, and this one fleshes out the notion that it was invented in Hamburg, New York. The story includes a Q&A:
Q: How did your great-grandfather invent the hamburger?
A: Our great-grandfather Charles and his brother Frank were traveling concessionaires back in 1885. They did the Hamburg fair, which is located about eight miles south of Buffalo. They were a 100-man operation. They were really noted for their sausage sandwich. The fair was run in August. It was too hot, and they ran out of sausage. It was too hot to butcher because there was no refrigeration, and the meat wouldn't have turned out very well.
They were talked into using ground beef, which back then was a little taboo. Fairs were where the highest of society met, and ground beef was more for lower-class people, so they didn't think they'd be successful with it. Faced with nothing to sell at all, they fried it up, but it was too bland.
My grandfather decided to put coffee, brown sugar, and some other household ingredients in it and cooked up the sandwich. My great-uncle Frank served the first sandwich, a gentleman tasted it and said, "What do you call it?" Uncle Frank didn't really know what to call it, so he looked up and saw the banner for the Hamburg fair and said, "This is the hamburger."
A Hamburger's Tasty Legacy [Businessweek]
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