Selling'em by the Sack: White Castle and the Creation of American Food

David Gerard Hogan, Author
David Gerard Hogan, Author New York University Press $50 (209p) ISBN 978-0-8147-3566-4
Reviewed on: 12/01/1997
Release date: 12/01/1997
Paperback - 218 pages - 978-0-8147-3567-1
Hardcover - 213 pages - 978-0-585-43466-7
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Fast food started mid-century with the McDonalds brothers and Ray Kroc, right? No. As Hogan makes clear in this fascinating story, the fast-food industry has a 75-year history and it all began with a White Castle in Wichita. Starting around the turn of the century with the Harvey House chain and the rise of the Coney Island hotdog, Hogan moves on to Walt Anderson and especially Billy Ingram, who, in 1921, took the disreputable hamburger and, in fewer than 10 years, turned it into America's favorite food. Not even the Great Depression dampened White Castle's success. That didn't come until WWII with severe food and labor shortages that cut White Castle's business in half, and then in the 1950s with the rise of franchise chains such as McDonalds that would greatly alter White Castle's upward direction. If it ended there it might not be so compelling, but White Castle fought its way through the Burger Wars of the '60s and '70s to find its niche again. Its small but significant success today is attributed to the huge White Castle fan base that Ingram created by bringing the hamburger into the lives of the middle class. Hogan tells a truly American success story--luck and hard work working behind one man to create an industry so pervasive that today it's an integral part of American pop culture. Success comes in many shapes and sizes, and in Billy Ingram's case it came in the shape of a small square steamed grilled hamburger patty smothered in onions. 22 photos. (Dec.)
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