How Did Hamburger Buns Get Their Seeds?

Is there any food as ubiquitous, yet as invisible, as the hamburger bun? There’s no glamour there. Billions of dollars worth of them are sold every year, yet hardly anyone gives them a second thought.

They ought to. Hamburger buns, humble as they may seem, have a fascinating history.

The early history of the hamburger is notoriously murky. At least five parties claim to have invented the hamburger as we know it today. And because hamburgers have always been a food of the masses, casual to the extreme, their history has never been documented well enough to say definitively whose claim is the most rightful.

Bread vs. Buns

However, several of the contenders, including the famed Louis Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut, can demonstrate only that they were among the first to serve grilled ground beef patties on sliced bread — not buns. And food writer Josh Ozersky, in his definitive 2008 book The Hamburger: A History, argues that hamburgers are defined, in no small part, by their buns.

“There is no doubt,” Ozersky writes. “On any kind of semantic or platonic level, no bun = no burger.”

“To admit ground beef on toast as a hamburger is to make the idea of a ‘hamburger’ so loose, so abstract, so semiotically promiscuous as to have no meaning,” he continues.

According to popular historian Michael Wallis, the first person to put a hamburger patty on a bun was a home cook from Oklahoma named Oscar Weber Billy. When Wallis interviewed Billy’s descendants for a terrific 1995 article in Oklahoma Today, they claimed that in 1891, Grandpa Billy grilled up some burger patties and put them on his wife’s “homemade yeast buns — the best buns in all the world, made from her own secret recipe.” They were a —> Read More