The American Who Made Us Flip for Hamburgers

The American Who Made Us Flip for Hamburgers: Louis Lassen, Danish Immigrant Street-Wagon Cook

I love White Castle and I never go to New York City without getting a bag of sliders (White Castle).

Back in 1921, it all began with a humble five-cent hamburger. White Castle opened its castle-shaped restaurant, which was unique and ahead of its time. Their signature Slider, a simple yet delicious 100% beef patty with onions and a pickle, quickly became popular due to its convenient size. Sharing a sack of Sliders with friends is even better than enjoying them alone. White Castle continues to deliver on its promise of tasty burgers and good times.

In the bustling streets of New Haven, Connecticut, at the dawn of the 20th century, a Danish immigrant named Louis Lassen was about to make culinary history. Known for his street-wagon cookery, Lassen inadvertently introduced what would become one of America's most iconic foods: the hamburger.

The Birth of the Hamburger

The story of the hamburger's creation is as simple as it is revolutionary. In 1900, Louis Lassen was running a small lunch wagon, serving up quick meals to the working crowd. One fateful day, a busy customer requested something "quick and delicious." Lassen, thinking on his feet, took a piece of ground beef, broiled it, and placed it between two slices of toast. This ingenious combination was both easy to eat on the go and incredibly satisfying.

The dish quickly became popular among his patrons, who appreciated the convenience and taste. As the sandwich gained popularity, Lassen decided to name his creation after the Hamburg steak, a popular dish among German immigrants that consisted of seasoned ground beef. Thus, the "hamburger" was born.

Spreading the Love: Hamburger Popularity in America

The hamburger's popularity spread rapidly across America, particularly during the early 20th century. Its convenience, affordability, and taste made it a hit among the growing urban workforce. The rise of diners and the advent of the fast-food industry further propelled the hamburger into the national spotlight.

In 1921, White Castle, the first fast-food hamburger chain, was founded in Wichita, Kansas. Their innovative assembly-line approach to food preparation ensured consistent quality and quick service, setting a standard for the fast-food industry. White Castle's success spurred the opening of other chains, such as McDonald's, which opened its first restaurant in 1948. McDonald's, in particular, played a crucial role in popularizing the hamburger on a global scale, thanks to its extensive marketing and franchise model.

The Global Phenomenon

As American culture spread worldwide in the post-World War II era, so did the hamburger. American soldiers stationed abroad introduced the hamburger to various countries, and international visitors to the United States brought their newfound love for the sandwich back home. Fast-food chains like McDonald's and Burger King established outlets in numerous countries, making the hamburger a global culinary staple.

Today, the hamburger is enjoyed in countless variations around the world, reflecting local tastes and ingredients. From Japan's teriyaki burgers to India's vegetarian patties, the hamburger has proven its versatility and universal appeal.

The Hamburger's Culinary Legacy

The hamburger's rise to prominence also paved the way for other foods to gain popularity. The fast-food model that promoted the hamburger also introduced consumers to items like french fries, milkshakes, and soft drinks, which became integral components of the American fast-food meal. These items, along with the hamburger, have become deeply embedded in global food culture.

Moreover, the hamburger's influence extends beyond fast food. It has inspired gourmet interpretations, with chefs around the world experimenting with high-quality ingredients and innovative techniques to create artisanal burgers. The burger's adaptability has made it a canvas for culinary creativity, pushing the boundaries of what a simple sandwich can be.


Louis Lassen's innovative spirit and quick thinking in 1900 gave birth to the hamburger, a humble sandwich that has become a symbol of American ingenuity and global culinary influence. From its modest beginnings in a New Haven lunch wagon to its status as a worldwide favorite, the hamburger's journey is a testament to its enduring appeal and versatility. As we continue to enjoy and reinvent this iconic dish, we can appreciate the legacy of the Danish immigrant who made us flip for hamburgers.