Was the hamburger really invented in Hamburg, NY?

Erie County Fair

It’s National Hamburger Day, and the beloved patty between two buns has a special connection to WNY. Although the true invention of the hamburger might always be a mystery, one of the more popular stories, regarding its birthplace, dates back to 1885, in Hamburg, NY.

When you walk into Juicy Burger Bar in Hamburg, you’re greeted by a mural with photos of Charles and Frank Menches. Stories say the brothers, from Canton, OH, invented the hamburger at the Erie County Fair in 1885.

“They were serving sausage patties and suddenly they had run out, and they ran to the butcher for more pork, and to their dismay they were sold out of pork, and only had ground beef,” Heather Williams said, the GM of Juicy Burger Bar. “And that’s where they say the burger was created and birthed as you will.”

The patty between two buns instantly became a hit, and when the Menches considered what to call their concoction, stories say they chose ‘hamburger,’ because they were in Hamburg. 

Inside the Heritage and History Center, on the Fairgrounds, the fair pays tribute to that moment. 

“We’ve got a whole exhibit dedicated to the birth of the burger, but we also have a place where the kids can serve up their own burger to the parents,” Marty Biniasz said, the marketing manager of the fair. 

Biniasz said the descendants of the Menches brothers are still in the hamburger business today, in Ohio, which is part of the reason why he believes the story out of Hamburg has pretty good legs. 

“It’s the oldest birth of the burger story that is out there, and there’s about four or five other stories; it’s the only story that can claim why it’s called the hamburger, because we’re here in hamburg, NY, and the fact that the descendants of the Menches brothers still are in the hamburger business.”

Just down the street from the Erie County Fair, there are plans to turn a water tower into a hamburger, in Hamburg. And whether the hamburger was invented in WNY or not, Juicy Burger Bar staff say they’re still proud to be in a town that is potentially a part of history. 

Last year, Christopher Carosa wrote a book called ‘Hamburger Dreams,’ which dives into the history of the hamburger. Carosa said he’s been interested in the topic for about 40 years, and intensely researched the history of the hamburger for the last seven years. 

He believes the Hamburg story is the most legitimate. He looked for the earliest mention of hamburgers in newspapers, and actually crossed off a couple stories from doing that. He’s interviewed so many people regarding the topic. One interesting point he found was, there was a swine epidemic in 1885, which could lead to why the butcher wouldn’t give the Menches brothers anymore pig that year, and gave them ground beef instead. 

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