According to a brief article in this morning’s paper, the Wisconsin legislature is considering a resolution to declare the town of Seymour the official birthplace of the hamburger. This is apparently in response to a movement to similarly memorialize the town of Athens, Texas (a claim which the mayor of Seymour labels as "bologna").
My immediate response to information like this is always to go look it up. I did extensive research, consisting of an Internet search for “history of hamburger” and at least seven minutes spent skimming several sites. That was just enough information to leave me thoroughly confused.
First of all, people all over the world have been eating ground meat in various forms for centuries. Perhaps the most famous version is that of the Mongols, who supposedly slapped ground meat under their saddles and ate it raw after riding on it all day. The rich flavor of horse sweat presumably made salt and ketchup unnecessary.
The name “hamburger” evidently did come from the city in Germany, which popularized a type of ground meat patty that became known as “Hamburg steak.” By the early 1800’s, this term was showing up on restaurant menus in the United States.
The crucial question, apparently, is who was the first to make the “Hamburg steak” patty into a sandwich. At least six or seven American towns claim to have invented the modern hamburger. Its origins are unsurprisingly similar—a food vendor at a fair or restaurant having the bright idea of putting ground meat between two slices of bread for an easy-to-eat sandwich. Purists also debate whether the patty-on-bread version is a true hamburger, or whether that distinction is reserved for the patty-on-a-bun variety.
If I were a more dedicated scholar, I could do further research, delving into the finer points of hamburger history: toasted vs. non-toasted buns, the origins of the cheeseburger, whether ketchup or mustard came first, and the proper place of pickles. But it’s getting close to lunchtime, and all this reading about hamburger is making me hungry. I think I’m going to go to a fast-food place and order a “Seymour.”