The early appeal of the Hamburger was its transportability. Charlie Nagreen realized this and converted his meatballs into flattened patties. This made it easier for people to carry from place to place.
With flourishing industry came a greater demand for transportable food that was inexpensive enough for laborers that could also be ready quickly. In 1920, Walt Anderson opened his hamburger stand in Wichita, Kansas. He served hamburgers to factory workers and therefore helped define hamburgers as a working class food. Billy Ingram invested in Anderson’s business, realizing that there could be large gains in hamburgers. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, had changed Americans view of the burger. They distrusted it and were suspicious of what was in it. Ingram first combated this image by naming the business White Castle. The word white was used to give the image of purity while the word castle was used to represent strength and stability. Ingram standardized the entire business. All the restaurants looked the same, all workers were eighteen to twenty-four years of age and all had a high school education1. Ingram went so far as to create his own factories to create uniform paper aprons and hats. Consistency meant that people could trust White Castle’s name wherever they went2.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/w8c9ox_KxOk" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
This consistency was possible due to the adoption of scientific management principles. By minimizing the task of each worker and teaching each worker these positions, the level of differentiation between workers in different locations dramatically drops, keeping White Castle consistent. Ingram also saw to it that all aspects of each White Castle were the same. Ingram used this to ensure the integrity of the product and therefore the healthiness of the burger.
Ingram remarks on this uniformity thus:
“When you sit in a White Castle, remember that you are one of several thousands; you are sitting on the same kind of stool; you are being served on the same kind of counter; the coffee you drink is made in accordance with a certain formula; the hamburger you eat is prepared exactly the same way over a gas flame of the same intensity; the cups you drink from are identical with thousands of cups that thousands of other people are using at the same moment; the same standard of cleanliness protects your food…”3
In the post-war years, drive-in restaurants and diners fed, literally, the young people engrossed with the blossoming blossoming car culture. Car-hops would bring trays of food out to the cars that could hang on the car window, providing convenience in car eating. Hamburger sandwiches were common fare because they were cheap, easy and quick to prepare, and they were portable; three attributes that made them highly popular with motorists.
Roy Kroc came across the McDonald brothers’ drive-in and realized what a money maker it could be. He started to run one as a franchise, and in 1961 bought the business from the brothers. When Kroc sought to expand by franchising restaurants, he required franchisee’s were required to follow many guidelines in order to keep all McDonald’s consistent4. Speed and uniformity are still key components in commercial burgers today. For example the process for making a Big Mac is so streamlined that a worker can assemble one in approximately 15 seconds:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/7o4ZDNT8jkM" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
McDonald’s capitalized on the idea of populuxe, populism combined with luxury; symbols that represented the achievement of a life of convenience and prosperity5. This, along with America’s obsession with haste and consistency after World War II, led McDonald’s to become extremely popular and spread rapidly. Today, it is known as a symbol of America and American capitalism around the world.