All food that’s not consumed in its natural state had to be “invented” along the way – for some reason, though, I just thought cheeseburgers had been around longer than a hundred years.
It turns out that’s not true, though, because, in 1938, The New York Times thought them a weird new, probably dying, fad.
The Times’ trend section continues to be something of a lark and can be especially entertaining when viewed through the lens of history. In this case, the California fad of the “cheeseburger” was first noted in October of 1938 – it was listed among many other things in a piece about the “whimsy” of California restaurants.
There are a number of people who claim to have made the first cheeseburger, but the earliest is Lionel Sternberger, who was working as a chef in his father’s sandwich shop, The Rite Spot, in Pasadena, CA.
One more California restaurant, O’Dell’s, had a cheeseburger on their menu in 1928, but no one there claimed they thought of it first.
They singled out the cheeseburger in 1947, saying “at first, the combination of beef with cheese and tomatoes, which sometimes are used, may seem bizarre. If you reflect a bit, you’ll understand the combination is sound gastronomic.”
Which is to say, someone tried one and found it to be, obviously, delicious.
Now, of course, cheeseburgers proliferate – you can have big ones or small ones (yay, sliders!) pick your cheese, pile it with traditional toppings or go for something totally out of the box. You can make them at home, they can be a cheap treat, or you can fork over $300 for one.