White Castle rules. Those tiny square burgers, steam-grilled and oniony, are a true gift. And this week, they turned 100, so it’s time for a celebration. Dayton.com goes through a brief history of the Columbus-based slider chain, because who doesn’t like their burgers with a little bit of knowledge?
Though many assume that McDonald’s was the first fast food chain in American history, it wasn’t: it was actually White Castle. White Castle was founded by Walt Anderson and Billy Ingram in Wichita, Kansas, in 1921. Before White Castle, Anderson was already a hamburger veteran, having operated burger stands in the Wichita area. When Anderson met Ingram, an insurance salesman, Ingram saw the potential in Anderson’s sliders.
Back then, fast food restaurants weren’t open like we know them today. “In the beginning, it was Billy’s idea that everybody deserved a night out—that everybody deserved to be able to get hot and tasty food,” says Jamie Richardson, vice president of marketing and public relations at White Castle. “From early on, we were open 24 hours a day. The idea was to be there for those shift workers so they can have their snack at the end of the day—even if that’s after the third shift. Since the beginning, it has been all about affordability and convenience.”
Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle had shaken the food industry with its depiction of the food industry being unsanitary as a whole. White Castle had to combat public perception, and Ingram visited each location to make sure their stainless steel counters were shining and cleaned up. The burger chain is also known for inventing carryout, with their tagline being, “Buy ‘em by the sack,” which encouraged customers to take sliders back home with them.
Ingram bought out Anderson’s share and moved White Castle to Columbus, Ohio. The chain grew from there. Now, to celebrate their 100th birthday, the chain is redesigning employee uniforms, giving employee scholarships, releasing augmented reality soft drink cups, and serving new desserts.
Finally, on National Slider Day, May 15, the company will host a virtual celebration by serving cake and punch to customers nationwide. A birthday cake on a stick will be a limited-time offering, starting April 18, so keep an eye out for those. Happy birthday, White Castle!