Tom Blank of Weird History Food recently shared an exciting video clip that looked back at the innovative fast-food chain. Billy Ingram and Walter Anderson founded it in 1921. The White Castle has been serving up its iconic “Slyders” sliders for over a century now, and it’s still going strong.
The story behind the name “White Castle” is interesting, as it was chosen to imply cleanliness at a time when meat was having a PR problem due to Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” In addition, the word “Castle” added an element of permanence and strength, which people want from a good burger.
White Castle’s original building in Wichita, Kansas, was modeled after the Chicago Tower and cost just $700 to build, equivalent to $11,000 today. The first White Castle sliders were sold for just $0.05 each, and they quickly became a popular carry-out item due to the small size of the restaurants.
To solve the seating problem, White Castle came up with the idea of carry-out boxes, which became the brand’s signature. The boxes were sprayed with a special coating to prevent grease from soaking through, making them perfect for on-the-go eating. White Castle was also the first fast food company to distribute coupons in newspapers, with the first coupon offering customers five hamburgers for just $0.10. The public loved the offer, and White Castle became more popular.
The original sliders were made by grilling small balls of ground beef and topping them with diced bits of fresh onions before smashing them flat and placing them in a bun with a pickle. Today, the sliders are cooked by placing 3 dozen cooked frozen beef patties on a griddle covered in water and a pile of rehydrated onions.
The beef patties have holes that make cooking them both ways possible, an innovation suggested by Earl Howell in 1954. One interesting fact about White Castle is that it’s very popular with vegans and vegetarians, thanks to the Impossible Slider, made with plant-based meat. The Impossible Slider was a massive success, and it’s now available in over 140 White Castle locations.
White Castle has also made its way into pop culture, with references in songs, movies, and TV shows. For example, New Jersey rockers, The Smithereens, sang about the “White Castle Blues.” Harold and Kumar famously went on a quest for White Castle burgers in the movie “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.” White Castle has had an incredible impact on the fast-food industry, and its sliders have become a beloved American icon. With over 360 locations across the country and frozen sliders available in grocery stores, White Castle is still going strong after all these years.