We’ve all been there: sitting in class or at work, watching television, or playing sports, when the urge hits. White Castle is calling your name, and there’s nothing you can do about it. White Castle is more than just a place that serves a craveable soft little hamburger on a tiny bun, though: It’s a legendary institution, credited as the very first fast food chain in the United States. Read on for nine things you didn’t know about this burger institution.
White Castle was founded in Wichita, Kansas, way back in 1921, by a cook named Walt Anderson and his friend, an insurance salesman named Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram. They sold thin little onion-topped burgers that were smashed down on the griddle (which came to be known as “sliders”) for five cents, and perfected the process that allowed them to keep opening new locations while maintaining a high-quality product. Nobody had successfully done this before Anderson and Ingram, and their methods not only gave rise to the burger chains we know and love today, it also popularized the hamburger as an all-American food.
Today, there are White Castles in markets including Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Louisville, Minneapolis, Nashville, St. Louis, and New York. The New York area is known as an “exclave” for the company because it’s so far away from where all the other locations are, so New Yorkers should be very grateful that the chain branched out of the Midwest to grace them with their presence. When the Las Vegas location opened in January 2015 (which marked the first expansion into a new state in 56 years), demand was so high that it needed to shut down for two hours to restock — the first time that had ever happened in the 24-hour-a-day chain’s history.
Each White Castle slider contains six grams of fat and 140 calories, so eating a dozen of them in one sitting might not be the best idea. But there’s something about these greasy little burgers that’s unlike anything else out there, and it’s truly a bite of Americana. Nowadays, we may think of White Castle as just another fast food chain, but in reality, it’s anything but. Read on for nine things you didn’t know about White Castle.
Cleanliness Was the Secret to Its Success
Ground beef was one of the most feared food items in America when the first White Castle opened, largely because of the success of Upton Sinclair’s 1906 exposé The Jungle, which made the poor sanitation practices of the meat packing industry public. To make sure that nobody thought that their burgers were anything but 100 percent clean, the buildings were painted completely white, the interiors were made of stainless steel, and the employees all wore spotless uniforms.
The Design is Modeled After Chicago’s Water Tower Pumping Station
The chain’s buildings were all prefabricated, and were modeled after the Chicago Water Tower, which features a parapet, octagonal buttresses, and crenelated towers. A descendant of that original design is still in use today.