In the wake of World War I, the hamburger was still considered a disreputable and undesirable food. Yet by 1930 Americans in every corner of the country accepted the hamburger as a mainstream meal and eventually made it a staple of their diet. The quintessential "American" food, hamburgers have by now spread to almost every country and culture in the world. But how did this fast food icon come to occupy so quickly such a singular role in American mass culture?
In Selling ‘em By the Sack, David Gerard Hogan traces the history of the hamburger's rise as a distinctive American culinary and ethnic symbol through the prism of one of its earliest promoters. The first to market both the hamburger and the "to go" carry-out style to American consumers, White Castle quickly established itself as a cornerstone of the fast food industry. Its founder, Billy Ingram, shrewdly marketed his hamburgers in large quantities at five cents a piece, telling his customers to "Buy'em by the Sack."
The years following World War II saw the rise of great franchised chains such as McDonald's, which challenged and ultimately overshadowed the company that Billy Ingram founded. Yet White Castle stands as a charismatic pioneer in one of America's most formidable industries, a company that drastically changed American eating patterns, and hence, American life. It could be argued that what Henry Ford did for the car and transportation, Billy Ingram did for the hamburger and eating.
From Kirkus Reviews
A scholar's lively account of how White Castle, now a largely overlooked but still profitable also-ran in the domestic restaurant trade, made the once-scorned hamburger a US institution and launched the fast-food industry. Drawing on a variety of sources, historian Hogan (Heidelberg Coll.) first reviews the ethnic and regional character of America's food preferences prior to the 1920s. He goes on to document the accomplishments of the two men who founded White Castle late in 1921 in Wichita, Kans.: Walt Anderson, inventor of the hamburger, and Billy Ingram, whose marketing genius helped make Anderson's creation a staple of American diets. On the strength of standardization, quality control, a commitment to cleanliness, and conservative financial practices, they soon had a lucrative national network of faux-citadel outlets vending tiny ground-meat patties served with an abundance of pungent onions on diminutive buns for a nickel apiece; enjoining customers to ``buy em by the sack,'' the partners also pioneered the take-out business. Although it survived the Great Depression in fine style, White Castle was hard hit by WW II's home-front price controls, shortages, and restrictions. Having staggered through the 1940s, however, the company retained its fanatically loyal clientele in the cities while formidable new rivals (Big Boy, Gino's, Hardee's, Howard Johnson, McDonald's, et al.) preempted fast-growing suburban markets. Although no longer a leader in the field of franchising giants it helped create, White Tower occupies a rewarding niche that, thanks to effective management practices, promises to provide worthwhile returns for years to come. Informed and engaging perspectives on an often ignored aspect of cultural and commercial Americana. The 20 illustrations include contemporary photos of White Castle outlets and the company's early advertisements. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
"David Hogan's love of fast food goes back at least twenty years: I remember talking to him while he gulped down a McDonald's before the start of class. Few historians I know would be able to translate their penchant for fast food into a wonderful case study of the first chain to sell huge numbers of hamburgers-to-go. Selling 'em by the Sack, which traces the fortunes and failures of White Castle from the 1920s to the 1990s, deftly blends biography, social history, and corporate history. In doing so, Hogan gives us a fascinating glimpse into American popular culture."
-Andrew Achenbaum,Professor of History, University of Michigan
"Full of fascinating details, not only for devotees of the ubiquitous 'slider,' but also for pop-culturists interested in American fast food and how it all got started."
-Minneapolis Star Tribune
"A scholar's lively account of how White Castle, now a largely overlooked but still profitable also-ran in the domestic restaurant trade, made the once-scorned hamburger a U.S. institution and launched the fast-food industry. . . . Informed and engaging perspectives on an often ignored aspect of cultural and commercial Americana."
"Hogan makes a convincing case for White Castle's influence."
-Jonathan Yardley,Washington Post
"A fascinating story . . .Hogan tells a truly American success story—luck and hard work behind one man to create an industry so pervasive that today it's an integral part of American pop culture."