There's No Ham in Hamburgers

Facts and Folklore About Our Favorite Foods


By Kim Zachman

Illustrated by Peter Donnelly

Formats and Prices




$22.99 CAD



  1. Hardcover $16.99 $22.99 CAD
  2. ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 6, 2021. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

From hot dogs and hamburgers to ice cream and pizza, this fascinating book is full of fun facts and stories of the origins of some of America's most popular foods.

Why is there no ham in hamburgers? How did we make ice cream before we could make ice? How did hot dogs get their name? From the origins of pizza (which got a big boost from Clarence Birdseye, of all people) to the Cornell professor who invented chicken fingers, There's No Ham in Hamburgers has all the ingredients for an entertaining and educational middle-grade read. Packed with informative sidebars, recipes, and experiments, along with fabulously funny illustrations by Peter Donnelly, this book is a reading recipe that kids will sink their teeth into!


Author’s Note

Hamburgers. Why are they called hamburgers when there’s no ham in them? I thought I could find the answer to that question with a quick internet search. But, that not-quick internet search eventually turned into this book.

As I clicked through websites looking for the origin of hamburgers, I saw stories about Mongolian emperors, German immigrants, and American entrepreneurs. Some of the stories were true; some were partly true; and some were pure legend. It seems that when the facts are few, folklore fills in.

Biting into the history of hamburgers gave me a taste of just how much America has been influenced by other cultures. Hamburgers and hot dogs came from Germany, pizza from Italy, and French fries from Belgium. Just kidding, they came from France (although Belgium would argue with that). America’s favorite foods are flavored by wars, religion, science, immigration, and innovation in very important ways. For example, the Kellogg brothers might not have invented breakfast cereals if they hadn’t been Seventh-day Adventists.

While researching the facts and folklore throughout this book, I found it surprising that no one seemed to know for sure who was the first to make the hamburger, the hot dog bun, the ice cream cone, or even peanut butter. Although each food has multiple claims for the title of inventor, there are no clear winners. Could it be they’re all winners? There is a hypothesis that scientific discoveries and inventions can be made by different people in different places at about the same time. This is known as “multiple independent discovery.” Peanut butter gives us a perfect example when two men, living in different states and unknown to each other, filed patents for the hydrogenation of peanut butter only one month a part.

I hope you enjoy learning more about the history of our favorite foods in the following pages. I sure did.

WAY BEFORE MCDONALD’S, WENDY’S, AND BURGER KING, there was Genghis Khan. Besides conquering most of the Asian continent in the thirteenth century, this Mongolian emperor found a way to feed his troops that would eventually become known as America’s favorite fast food.

Genghis Khan’s army, the Golden Horde, traveled by horseback from Mongolia to China on their raiding and ransacking excursions. Plundering and pillaging villages made them hungry. They didn’t have time to cook dinner because they had a continent to cross. They needed a fast, filling meal that could be eaten on the ride.

According to legend, Khan came up with a brilliant, although disgusting, solution. His soldiers put raw meat scraps between their horse and saddle. The constant friction from hours of riding tenderized the meat enough for the soldiers to eat it. A warrior could be trotting across the tundra, reach under his saddle, and pull out his dinner. The grounded meat patty came with its own special sauce—horse sweat.

Following in Genghis Khan’s hoofprints, his grandson—Kublai Khan—invaded Moscow in 1238. The Russians weren’t happy about being attacked, but they thought the saddle patties were a good idea. To add more flavor, or maybe to cover up the horsey smell, the Russians topped their patties with chopped onions.

A few centuries later, in the 1500s, trade ships began crossing the Baltic Sea between Germany and Russia. The visiting German sailors ate the Russians’ raw meat patty and loved it. When the sailors got home, they tried to get their wives to make the Russian delicacy. The wives must’ve thought raw meat was disgusting. Instead of eating it that way, they fried it.

Cooking the patties probably saved a lot of lives. Even though E. coli, and other bacteria, hadn’t been discovered yet, it lurked in the uncooked meat, waiting to attack some poor person’s intestines.

The new and improved fried beef patty, topped with sautéed onions, became a local favorite in Germany. At the time, Hamburg was the most important port city in the country. When sailors from other countries came ashore, they rushed to the nearest diner for a “Hamburg steak.”

In the 1800s, millions of Germans immigrated to the United States and they brought their Hamburg steak with them.

Who Decided to Put the Patty on a Bun?

Several people claim the honor of creating the first true hamburger. In no particular order, the top four contestants are:


of Seymour, Wisconsin

In 1885, fifteen-year-old Charlie Nagreen began selling meatballs at the Outagamie County Fair in Seymour, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, sales were slow. People didn’t seem to want to stop sightseeing long enough to eat. Charlie realized he needed to step up his game. He smashed a meatball between two slices of bread and named the new sandwich a “hamburger” after the commonly known Hamburg steak. Fairgoers loved this new fair food because they could eat it while they walked around. For the rest of his life, that young entrepreneur was known as “Hamburger Charlie.”

In 2007, the State of Wisconsin declared Seymour the “Original Home of the Hamburger.” To celebrate the creation of the hamburger, Seymour hosts an annual festival, which includes the World’s Largest Hamburger Parade (


of Unionville, Ohio

The Menches brothers were also selling food at a fair—the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, New York, in 1885. Unlike poor Charlie Nagreen, the brothers’ business was hopping! One day, they sold out of their sausages. The Menches couldn’t let those hungry fairgoers stay hungry, so they came up with a fried ground beef patty that they plopped on a roll. Since they were in Hamburg, Frank thought they should call their new fair food a “hamburger.” Thank goodness they weren’t at a fair in Poughkeepsie, New York, or we’d be eating poughkeepsers now. (The Menches also claimed to have created the first ice cream cone—you can read about that in Chapter 4.)


of New Haven, Connecticut

In 1895, Louis Lassen sold steak sandwiches to factory workers out of a food cart in New Haven, Connecticut. Lassen didn’t like to waste the extra bits of steak, so he ground them up and made them into a patty. Then, he grilled it and served it on bread.

A while later, Lassen opened a restaurant named Louis’ Lunch. Still in existence today, the restaurant’s website tells of a day in 1900 when a customer rushed in and ordered a quick meal that could be eaten on the run. Louis served the customer one of his ground steak sandwiches, which began the famous (at least in Connecticut) Louis’ Lunch hamburgers. The Library of Congress officially recognizes Louis’ Lunch as the birthplace of the hamburger sandwich.


of Athens, Texas

Fletcher (Old Dave) Davis also claimed to have invented the hamburger to feed a hurried customer at his restaurant in Athens, Texas, in the late 1880s. Davis and his beef sandwiches were mentioned in a newspaper article about the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, but Davis claimed that hamburgers weren’t new because he’d been selling them for more than twenty years.

Who do you think first invented the hamburger? Go to and vote for your top choice.

The common thread with these invention stories is that customers wanted a portable food and that became more evident at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. More than two million people visited the fair and many tasted a hamburger for the first time while there. One of those visitors, a New-York Tribune reporter, wrote an article about the fair and mentioned a great new sandwich called a “hamburger.”

After all that public exposure, the hamburger was definitely trending, and restaurants wanted to cash in on its popularity. The first hamburger chain, White Castle, opened in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas. For a nickel, you could buy a small burger topped with grilled onions and a pickle.

Something else trended in the 1920s—automobiles. In 1920, only eight million cars roamed the dirt roads of America. By 1930, there were more than 23 million. Americans loved their cars. It was common for families to pile into their automobile for a Sunday drive, just to ride around. J. G. Kirby and Dr. Reuben W. Jackson saw opportunity in the car craze. They opened the first drive-in restaurant in 1921, in Dallas, Texas, called the Texas Pig Stand. Drive-in restaurants soon popped up across the United States, with hamburgers on almost every menu.

Fast food got even faster when the drive-ins became drive-thrus. One of the first drive-thru hamburger restaurants was In-N-Out in Baldwin Park, California. Opened in 1948 by Harry and Esther Snyder, it served burgers, fries, and milk shakes from a shack with just enough room for a car to pull up next to the window.

Why bother parking when you can eat and drive at the same time? Sound familiar? Genghis Khan’s cavalry wanted to munch on the move, and eight hundred years later, Americans were doing the same thing.

Burger joints soon sprang up in every American town and many are still around today. Burger King and McDonald’s were both founded in 1954, with Wendy’s following in 1969. The battle for customers became the battle of the burgers. Burger King introduced the Whopper in 1957 with huge success. That forced McDonald’s to bring out the Big Mac. Then came double cheeseburgers and bacon cheeseburgers and chili cheeseburgers and veggie burgers—the list goes on and on.

No wonder Americans eat more than fifty million burgers a year—there are endless choices!


Hamburgers have been given a bad rap in the last few years as one of the many fast foods making Americans fat. However, a basic burger with one beef patty, a bun, lettuce, and tomato provides protein, carbohydrates, and a variety of important vitamins and minerals. Beef is a good source of iron, niacin, B12, selenium, and zinc, which are all vital to good health.

Unfortunately, beef is also high in cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fats, all of which contribute to heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats to around 13 grams a day (based on a 2,000-calorie diet). A five-ounce beef patty has 9 grams of saturated fat, more than half of the recommended daily amount.

Some hamburgers are unhealthy because they’re ginormous. When you see a hamburger with two beef patties, four strips of bacon, and three slices of cheese, run the other way while you still can!


According to Guinness World Records, the largest hamburger in the world was made in Pilsting, Germany, on July 9, 2017. It weighed 1,164 kg (2,566 pounds)!

McDonald’s sells 75 hamburgers every second, which equals about 6,480,000 hamburgers a day.

May 28 is National Burger Day.

September 18 is National Cheeseburger Day.

According to the Weber’s 25th Annual Grill Watch Survey, ketchup is the number one topping for hamburgers, followed by onions, tomatoes, lettuce, mustard, pickles, mayonnaise, bacon, mushrooms, and BBQ sauce.

Forty percent of all sandwiches sold are hamburgers.

In 1950, Atlanta’s The Varsity claimed to be the biggest drive-in in the world with parking places for 200 cars. At its peak of popularity, The Varsity employed 150 carhops.

Second Helpings


  • "Accessible and engaging…. A high-interest, tasty treat."—Booklist
  • "Told in a breezy, conversational style, the book walks readers through the often surprisingly far-ranging history and folklore of favorite foods from pizza to peanut butter. A good choice for any young gourmand’s bookshelf." —Kirkus Reviews
  • "This title would be a great addition to classes studying food and nutrition. Some parts can even be used in chemistry class. It would also be great a supplement when discussing how an idea or invention is created and then morphs over time, especially when the impact of a changing culture is considered."—School Library Connection
  • "Delightfully described and illustrated with amusing cartoon characters, this account of familiar foods engagingly combines history with the immigration story . . . . Add this selection to home, school, and office; for both young and old to savor as it holds a treasure of pleasure."—San Francisco Book Review
  • "An excellent and fun read for any kid or adult foodie."—School Library Journal
  • “Scientific concepts appear in highlighted text boxes and include an explanation for why chips become stale and how milk chocolate requires overcoming the tendency for oil and water to separate. At least one recipe also doubles as an easy experiment, inviting readers to measure the temperature of ice before and after making ice cream . . . . [R]eaders of all ages are likely to learn something new about food.”—Science magazine

On Sale
Apr 6, 2021
Page Count
144 pages
Running Press Kids

Kim Zachman

About the Author

Kim Zachman is a freelance writer and children's author. She's a co-founder and contributor to The mother of two adult children, she lives in Roswell, Georgia with her husband.

Peter Donnelly is an award-winning illustrator who is influenced by midcentury design, folk art, and vintage print. He lives and works in Ireland.

Learn more about this author