Tiny hamburgers are just be too big to be confined to one week's worth of special coverage. This entry begins our second week of Tiny Hamburger Week on A Hamburger Today. Ed.
Much more meaty than a White Castle burger could ever hope to be, Selling 'Em by the Sack is the history of the original tiny-hamburger chain and the history of the hamburger as well.
Shortly after mentioning this book last week, A Hamburger Today received a copy for review in the mail. We devoured it almost as quickly as a sack of Whitey's. While a tad more academic than entertaining, David Gerard Hogan's book is nonetheless fascinating and worth picking up for anyone interested in hamburger history. It is a must-read for White Castle fanatics.
Selling 'Em by the Sack details the rise of the hamburger as the defining "ethnic cuisine" of the American people in the 1920s. Before the Castle's rise, the burger was viewed as an icky, inferior food made from all the parts of a cow no one would eat. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, published in 1906, 15 years before the first Castle opened, wasn't the greatest endorsement of our favorite sandwich, either, what with its brutal look at the meatpacking industry in the early-twentieth-century United States. Mr. Hogan's book shows us how the Castle's founders, Edgar W. "Billy" Ingram and J. Walter "Walt" Anderson, used clever marketing, attention to detail, and novel business practices to elevate the burger in the eye of the American public. In so doing, they created the market for fast-food hamburgers and then dominated that market until the 1950s.
We learned some surprising facts about The White Castle System of Eating Houses, as the chain was officially called. Walt Anderson (at left in photo at left), for example, was an avid pilot who bought a fleet of biplanes to make impromptu quality checks at the far-flung garrisons of his empire. Mr. Ingram invented paper napkins and the paper hat that has long been associated with burger-joint employees. He then founded the Paperlynen Company as a subsidiary of the Castle; it supplied the chain with napkins, hats, and paper aprons and also made a tidy profit selling the same items to other foodmakers.
The book goes on to recount the Castle's near undoing during and after World War II (a labor shortage and changing wartime consumption habits cause the chain to falter) and then its resurrection thanks to a singleminded return to the founding principles of quality, cleanliness, and value.
I could go on and on about what a fascinating story this is, but I'm starting to bore myself here. If you're "one of us," that is, a Castle fan, put this book in your sack.