"Hamburger" invented and named (of course) in Clarinda, Iowa in 1901 or 1902

Barry Popik bapopik at GMAIL.COM
Thu Oct 4 07:39:40 UTC 2007

Linda Stradley has this Clarinda, Iowa "hamburger" story on her
website (whatscookingamerica.net), from an undated article in the
Omaha (NE) World-Herald. I found another article in the Lincoln (NE)
Star through Google News Archive, care of NewspaperArchive. Oddly, I
used the same keywords directly in NewspaperArchive, and the article
didn't show up in the results!
NewspaperArchive has been heavily digitizing Iowa newspapers, so it's
odd that no state newspaper tells the story of how the hamburger was
invented in 1901-1902 in Clarinda, Iowa.
These stories are all so ridiculous. There's always someone who says,
"What will we call the new sandwich?" Never mind that "Hamburg Steak"
and "hamburger" were terms that already existed for many years.
Clarindan Is 'Dan' of Hamburgers, Omaha World-Herald, by Paige Carlin,
date unknown. (From Bibliography--B.P.)
1901 or 1902 - Bert W. Gary of Clarinda, Iowa, in an article by Paige
Carlin for the Omaha World Herald newspaper, takes no credit for
having invented it, but he stakes uncompromising claim to being the
"daddy" of the hamburger industry. He served his hamburger on a bun:

The hamburger business all started about 1901 or 1902 (The Grays
aren't sure which) when Mr. Gray operated a little cafe on the east
side of Clarinda's Courthouse Square.

Mr. Gray recalled: "There was an old German here named Ail Wall (or
Wahl, maybe) and he ran a butcher shop. One day he was stuffing
bologna with a little hand machine, and he said to me: 'Bert, why
wouldn't ground meat make a good sandwich?'"

"I said I'd try it, so I took this ground beef and mixed it with an
egg batter and fried it. I couldn't bet anybody to eat it. I quit the
egg batter and just took the meat with a little flour to hold it
together. The new technique paid off."

"He almost ran the other cafes out of the sandwich business," Mrs.
Gray put in. "He could make hamburgers so nice and soft and juicy -
better than I ever could," she added.

"This old German, Wall, came over here from Hamburg, and that's what
he said to call it," Mr. Gray explained. "I sold them for a nickel
apiece in those days, That was when the meat was 10 or 12 cents a
pound," he added. "I bought $5 or $6 worth of meat at a time and I got
three or four dozen pans of buns from the bakery a day."

One time the Grays heard a conflicting claim by a man (somewhere in
the northern part of the state) that he was the hamburger's inventor.
"I didn't pay any attention to him," Mr. Gray snorted. "I've got
plenty of proof mine was the first," he said.
23 June 1977, Lincoln (NE) Star, "Bert's burgers were culinary legacy
to U.S.", The Staffer by Deb Gray, pg. 10, cols. 1-5:

My great-grandfather claimed that he started a revolution in American
cuisine. he claimed he created the first hamburger.
My Aunt Lucille, who has always lived in Clarinda, Iowa, the town
where I grew up, remembered his story. She told it to me. I also read
his story in a World-Herald clipping and a Chamber of Commerce

Around the turn of the century (as in all oral history, dates are
muddied), Bert Gray had a restaurant on the north side of the town
square in Clarinda, Iowa.

One morning he walked a few doors down the block, as he did every
morning, to buy meat for that day's cooking.

The butcher shop was owned by a German, a man named Ohm (or Ahm, Aunt
Lucille wasn't sure). He was grinding sausage.

"Bert," he said, "don't you think ground-up beef would make a good sandwich?"

"You grind some for me, and I'll try it," my grandfather said.

When my grandfather returned to the restaurant, he first coated the
ground beef with an egg and milk mixture. These were the pre-soybean
filler days, you know, and the beef needed gloop to make it stay

But the stuff didn't taste right. My grandfather tried again. This
time, he coated the meat with flour, pattied it, then tried it.

He put it between bread, tasted it and loved it. The hamburger was born.

After he made the sandwich, he took one to the German butcher.

"What should we call it?" my grandfather asked.

The butcher thought a moment, the laughed. "Let's call it the
hamburger," he said.

"Why? There's no ham in it."

As it turned out, the German butcher originally was from Hamburg,
Germany. he named the sandwich after his hometown.

The hamburger soon became the hottest-selling item on Bert Gray's
menu. he bought ground beef at 12 cents a pound and sold each
hamburger for 5 cents each.

At that time, many traveling types stopped in Clarinda, sort of a
midpoint between Omaha and Kansas City. My aunt said the hamburger's
reputation must have spread that way.

[Traveling types stopping in Clarinda, Iowa. Must have been -- ed.]

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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