How Classic Crime Solving Techniques Helped Crack the Case of America’s Greatest Culinary Mystery
MANKIND’S (SECOND) GREATEST INVENTION
“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
When J. Wellington Wimpy first voiced that phrase on December 28, 1934 in Fleischer Studios short “We Aim to Please,” Popeye’s 17th theatrical cartoon,1 the White Castle hamburger chain had already been around for 13 years.2 Indeed, by the time E.C. Segar added the character of Wimpy to his King Features Syndicate cartoon Thimble Theatre in 1931,3 White Castle was well on its way to selling 50 million hamburgers. It would achieve that mark in 1941.4’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
A year earlier, brothers Dick and Mac McDonald moved their father’s food stand from Route 66 in Monrovia, California to the streets of San Bernardino. They rechristened their restaurant “McDonald’s Bar-B-Que.”5 Eight years later they converted their carhops to self-serve and reduced the menu to burgers, fries, and milkshakes. They reopened their new fast food establishment on December 12, 1948 under the name “McDonald’s.”6
That same year Harry and Esther Snyder opened the first In-N-Out Burger in Baldwin Park, California just outside of Los Angeles. It would be the first fast food restaurant in the state of California to feature a drive-thru ordering and pick-up system.7 By 1958, on their ten-year anniversary, In-N-Out’s five locations celebrated by switching from bottled pop to fountain drinks.8 (In contrast, Wisconsin’s Sheboygan County celebrated the opening of McDonald’s 121st restaurant on June 19, 1958.)9
A year later, in 1959, two Miami franchisees (and Cornell grads) – James McLamore and David Edgerton – bought the faltering Insta-Burger King company.10 The duo immediately renamed it “Burger King” and expanded it to 250 restaurants by the time they sold the business to Pillsbury in 1967.11 (In contrast, McDonald’s opened its 1,000th restaurant in 1968 in Des Plaines, Illinois.)12
The very next year, on November 15, 1969, Dave Thomas, after becoming a millionaire working for Colonel Harland Sanders,13 opened the first Wendy’s in Columbus, Ohio.14 Today, Wendy’s sports more than 6,000 locations.15 (In contrast, McDonald’s has more than 36,000 restaurants in operation today.)16
Although the fast food business began in earnest at the outset of the roaring twenties,17 it took the logistical problem solvers of World War II, as well as America’s growing love affair with the automobile, to provide both the business model and the systems technology to get the industry as we know it today off the ground. Just how big is this industry? In the United States alone, fast food generated $200 billion in revenue during the year 2015.18 Worldwide revenues topped $570 billion.19
Nearly every one of us has either worked at a fast food restaurant or knows someone who has. Today, the trade employs approximately four million people.20 While encompassing many types of food, it’s clear there is one item that spurred this industry: the hamburger. This makes the hamburger possibly the second most important invention in all of mankind’s history.21
Thanks in part to both government statistics and required disclosures of publicly traded companies, when it comes to the burger business, we possess a veritable cornucopia of data, information, and history over the past 100 years or so. Yet, the actual origins of the hamburger sandwich remain hidden in the cloudy realm of hearsay, hype, and hometown hope. Close your eyes for a moment and let’s explore the leading suspects behind these mysterious tales of the birth of the first hamburger…
Footnotes to Chapter 2: Mankind’s (Second) Greatest Invention
1 “We Aim to Please,” Popeye the Sailorpedia, accessed February, 8, 2018, http://popeye.wikia.com/wiki/We_Aim_to_Please.
2 White Castle “Our Story,” White Castle, accessed August 5, 2018, https://www.whitecastle.com/about/company/our-story.
3 “We Aim to Please,” Popeye the Sailorpedia, accessed February, 8, 2018, http://popeye.wikia.com/wiki/We_Aim_to_Please.
4 Kiri Tannenbaum, “Fast-Food Firsts: A History of American Restaurants, Doughnut Shops, and Convenience Stores,” Delish, June 2015.
5 Donna Scanlon, “McDonald’s Bar-B-Que?” Library of Congress, May 2010.
6 Scanlon, “McDonald’s Bar-B-Que?” Library of Congress, May 2010.
7 John R. Schermerhorn Jr., Exploring Management (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007)
8 ”History,” In-N-Out Burger, accessed August 5, 2018, http://www.in-n-out.com/history.aspx.
9 Beth Dippel, “Sheboygan County history arrived here in 1958,” Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan, Wisconsin), June 13, 2014.
10 Harrison Smith “David Edgerton, Burger King co-founder who helped make the Whopper, dies at 90,” Washington Post (Washington, District of Columbia), April 18, 2018.
11 “History of Burger King,” Fast Food Menu Prices, accessed June 20, 2018, https://www.fastfoodmenuprices.com/history-of-burger-king/.
12 ”McDonald’s Corporation,” Reference for Business, accessed August 5, 2018, https://www.referenceforbusiness.com/businesses/M-Z/McDonald-s-Corporation.html.
13 Don Daszkowski, “Learn the History of Wendy’s – How David Thomas Built Kentucky Fried Chicken and Wendy’s,” The Balance Small Business, August 12, 2017, https://www.thebalancesmb.com/dave-thomas-of-kentucky-fried-chicken-wendys-1350962.
14 “History of Wendy’s Restaurant,” Food History, January 8, 2014, https://www.world-foodhistory.com/2014/01/history-of-wendys-restaurant.html.
15 Tannenbaum, “Fast-Food Firsts: A History of American Restaurants, Doughnut Shops, and Convenience Stores,” Delish, June 2015.
16 Rupert Neate, “McDonald’s: a brief history in 15 facts,” The Guardian (Kings Place, London), May 2, 2015.
17 Archeologists in Pompeii, Italy, may have uncovered what they believe might have been a roadside food service business, perhaps the first recorded example of a fast food restaurant. – Author’s personal on-site observation
18 “Fast Food Industry Analysis 2018 – Cost & Trends,” Franchise Help, accessed August 5, 2018, https://www.franchisehelp.com/industry-reports/fast-food-industry-analysis-2018-cost-trends/.
19 “Fast Food Industry Analysis 2018 – Cost & Trends,” Franchise Help, accessed August 5, 2018, https://www.franchisehelp.com/industry-reports/fast-food-industry-analysis-2018-cost-trends/.
20 “Number of employees in the United States fast food restaurant industry from 2004 to 2018*,” Statista, accessed August, 5, 2018, https://www.statista.com/statistics/196630/number-of-employees-in-us-fast-food-restaurants-since-2002/.
21 What is the most important invention in mankind’s history? Why, the wheel, of course. And because the automobile played such a critical role in the growth of the fast food business, you can see how the most important invention (the wheel) and the second most important invention (the hamburger) combined to create arguably the world’s most important business (in terms of the number of people it directly impacts). – Author