Most fast food restaurants these days have diversified their offerings to include healthy options as well as different drinks like high-end coffee, shakes/malts and in some cases even alcoholic options like beer and wine. Amongst all that change is a fast food company that has essentially kept the same menu for decades (with some options), a fast-food restaurant that is so good at what they do that it spawned a movie franchise. That fast food restaurant is called White Castle and they’re known for their deliciously tiny burgers that some people called sliders and other people can gut bombs. We wanted to delve into the history of the restaurant behind ‘Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle’ as we’ve covered other spots like McDonald’s, Burger King and In N’ Out Burger. So strap in, grab some antacids and get ready to learn about everyone’s favorite place to go after a night of hard partying.
10. The Original ‘Super Size Me’
In 2004 documentary maker Morgan Spurlock burst onto the scene by filming a documentary that revolved around him eating nothing but McDonald’s for a month straight. There has never been a documentary that has been as destructive and transformative as ‘Super Size Me’, as it was very popular and showed how unhealthy McDonald’s food can be. McDonald’s responded by adding healthy options to their menu and by also stating that their food isn’t meant to be eaten for every meal. Before Spurlock, though, there was a University of Minnesota medical student who was tasked with eating nothing but White Castle burgers for every meal for not just one month, but for nearly three months straight. Back when hamburgers were first invented, over 100 years ago, by the founder of White Castle, there were people who were adamantly against hamburgers for whatever reason and who stated that hamburgers were not only unhealthy (which is true) but that they were essentially poison. So the powers that be at White Castle commissioned that study to prove that the burgers weren’t toxic, basically, and surprisingly the med student not only survived his three months of tiny burgers, but felt fine afterwards as well (but considering this was the days before anti-biotics, the word “Fine” is relative, of couse).
9. Working for White Castle Used to Be a GREAT Gig
If there’s any type of job these days, and really for the past few decades, that are looked down upon it’s a fast food gig. There are numerous statements and stereotypes that exist about working for a fast food restaurant like calling it a “McJob” or in someone saying that at least they’re not “flipping burgers” for a living. While that’s not really true these days as most fast food restaurants have attempted to make working for them better by offering better wages, better benefits and/or the opportunity for advancement, the reality is, as recent movements have shown, working for a fast food restaurant is still not the best gig in the world. Back in the day, though, that wasn’t true as White Castle used to pay their employees between $18 and $30 a week, which was a lot a century ago. Beyond that, White Castle offered paid benefits that weren’t a regular thing in those pre-Union days like paid sick days, pension plans (rememebr those?) and and upward mobility by offering some opportunities for promotion. That’s all thanks to the little 5-cent burgers they used to sell by the sack full.
8. The Slider Hasn’t Changed in 100 Years
2016 marked the 100th year of operation for White Castle, making it the oldest fast-food joint in the game. As you’ll see on this list, the founder of White Castle created the world’s first hamburger after fighting against a meatball with his spatula when he was angry about how the meatballs he was cooking during his shift as a line cook, ended up sticking to the griddle. After that, he added onions and some cheese to his burgers, and started selling them for five cents a pop, often selling sacks full of his burgers to orphans who would sell them around the corner to rich people in fancy cars who were too lazy to get out. Out of all burgers from fast food joints, the White Castle burger, known as a slider, a White Castle or a gut bomb, is the most identifiable to people across the world mostly due to it’s size. As it turns out, that’s how they made the burger a century ago, with the same basic recipe. So, while things are changing quicker and quicker these days thanks to technology and how it exponentially improves upon itself, you can rest assured that there’s one constant in the world and that constant is a small, delicious burger that you can still buy in bulk and that rich people are still ashamed to admit they love.
7. White Castle is about more than Burgers
White Castle as a business seems pretty cut and dry. It’s a business that owns restaurants that used to be burger stands that makes arguably the best burger known to man. Anyone that has seen the movie “The Founder” about the founding of McDonald’s might know that there’s a lot more to owning a fast-food empire than just the food or even the locaation the food is made in, as business is cut throat and there are a lot of different opportunities for people to make money on side hustles. White Castle is no different, as when it was founded the original CEO wanted White Castle locations to be small, cheap and easy to build. To keep all of that in-house White Castle created a company to make cheap porcelain-and-steel structures so they could essentially make money off of building their own buildings. They also bought the company that was supplying their employees with paper hats in 1932, which ended up being a goldmine in and of itself as they were creating over fifty million paper hats for the entire fast food industry by the 1960’s.
6. They Provided Vehicles During WWII
Part of the subsidiaries listed in the previous entry was a company named Porcelain Steel Buildings that provided, you guessed it, porcelain and steel buildings for the construction of White Castle locations. During World War II a lot of the United States’ economy was based on the war effort, which is what pulled the country out of the decade that was the depression and after the war and most of the world’s factories had been bombed, created the opportunity for the United States to become the largest economy in the world (and army, and country in terms of power). White Castle’s Porcelain Steel Buildings was no exception as it went from fabricating cheap facades for White Castle locations to building amphibious vehicles for the war effort, which is surprising because when it comes to what you’d expect to float the last two things that come to mind are porcelain and steel. After the war, PSB was left with a surplus of supplies for those vehicles, so they ended up creating another company that created equipment for lawn spreading. Today, PSB still works with Scott’s, one of the largest lawn care companies in the world. So the next time you see a nice lawn remember that you have Hitler and White Castle to thank for that. Reality is weird.
5. The Original Restaurant Designs
The original and old school White Castle locations were actually set up to look like actual castles, as the image above shows. The irony of it is that the location that the White Castle restaurants were based on wasn’t a castle at all but rather a church. After the Great Fire of 1871 one of the few things that were still standing was the Chicago Water Tower. The Gothic design actually looks like a castle so you can’t fault them for using it as inspiration and to be honest regardless of what it looked like or what it was based on it’s actually a lot cooler than the fast-food joints we get these days that are typically stuck in or near a failing strip mall. Those box designed restaurants may be cheaper and larger, but still they’re not as cool as those few remaining White Castle locations and that’s most likely why people refer to the past as the good old days. These days there are still a few original White Castle buildings around, although those are typically not actual restaurants anymore. For example, one of the original locations in Minneapolis still looks like it did decades ago although there’s an insurance agency inside as opposed to a restaurant.
4. What the Name Means
White Castle founder Walt Anderson was single-handedly responsible for the invention of the modern hamburger as well as for the modern fast-food restaurant, so it’s safe to say that he’s the king of both hamburgers and fast food spots. However, the name White Castle wasn’t something that alluded to Anderson’s royalty in the meat patty industry or any racist tendencies he may have had. When he invented hamburgers in 1916, the world was full of misinformed people and because of that and the fact that hamburgers were a new kind of food, people didn’t know what to think… Or at least some people. Other people like Upton Sinclair and Frederick J. Schlink were adamant that hamburgers were basically poisonous. In their books The Jungle and Eat, Drink and Be Wary, respectively, Sinclair and Schlinik “exposed” hamburger meat as extremely unsafe to the point that it was essentially poison. While it’s true that uncooked hamburger meat will get you sick (where as other forms of raw beef aren’t, because they aren’t grinded up), that was just reactionary nonsense that could’ve put Anderson out of business. With that in mind, Anderson decided to combine two words that together would convey both “purity and solidity”, a pristine image, and those words were white and castle.
3. Sliders Were Instantly Popular
White Castle founder Walt Anderson created both the modern hamburger and the modern concept of fast-food and while it’s said that the restaurant business is the most difficult to break into and sustain, Walt had no problems when he introduced hamburgers to the world through his hamburger stands in 1916. In the book ‘Selling ‘Em by the Sack’ by David G. Hogan, it was stated that there was a regular contingent of young orphaned boys who routinely would buy an entire sack of the 5-cent burgers that Walt Anderson was cooking up. Anderson noticed this and considering that the young boys didn’t have money, ever, he decided to follow them one day after they bought their second sack of burgers. Around the corner the boys were delivering the burgers to a hand that came out of the window of a limo. Meaning that regardless of socio-economic status or age, everyone loves White Castle, even if they’re too lazy or good to get out of their car to get them. For anyone who has ordered a Crave case will attest, it’s really not much different these days as you typically end up waiting for a good half-an-hour while those delicious little jam jam’s are being cooked. The only thing missing is the orphans. Thankfully.
2. Their Founder Created the Modern Fast Food Joint
As you’ll learn in our number one entry, the founder of White Castle, Walt Anderson, was essentially both a visionary and a genius. He created the modern hamburger and beyond that he also created the modern fast food restaurant. After inventing/discovering the hamburger Anderson took out an $80 loan after his first hamburger stand, opened in 1916, became an instant sensation. He ended up receiving that loan from a local real estate broker named W.E. Ingram (who went by Billy) who ended up as the first CEO of White Castle. By 1921 they established a chain of 5-cent per burger at burger stands that were known for being as efficient as they were small. While McDonald’s Ray Kroc is widely credited for that, if you’ve seen the movie ‘The Founder’, you’ll know that he stole most of what he is credited for and the fast food concept is no exception because either way you slice it that’s the concept that eventually took off and became what we know as the fast food restaurant today and we all have Walt Anderson to thank.
1. Their Founder Created the Modern Hamburger
White Castle was founded by a fella named Walt Anderson, who was originally a short-order cook from Wichita, Kansas. Before Walt there really wasn’t a hamburger, at least how we know it, and the story behind how he became the king of burgers (who happens to live in a castle.. Get it?) is too good to be true. One day Anderson was attempting to make some meatballs and he was having trouble with the fact that his meatballs were sticking to the griddle whenever he attempted to pick them up. In his frustration he smashed one of the meatballs with his spatula, flattening it. When he saw the flattened patty he had an epiphany that it’d be great in between two pieces of bread and that’s how the modern hamburger was born. Like many inventions hamburgers were created by accident and if Walt had better anger control problems perhaps we wouldn’t have any hamburger spots. Good bless that man’s temper.