Life and Times
White Castle is an American fast-food hamburger chain that started in 1916. Its headquarters are in Columbus, Ohio.
In America, it had around 390 stores as of 2005, most of which were in the mid-west, and all of which were still owned by the founding family. Growth is financed out of cash-flow. The company never borrows money to expand; it opens only about twenty restaurants a year. It only had 12 stores abroad in 2005, in Japan and Malaysia, all franchises. As of 2006 White Castle, was exploring use franchises as well to expand into Mexico and Germany. A founding family member, E.W. Ingram III, became head of the company in 1992 and still held that position as of 2012.
White Castle has developed its own unique culture and vocabulary, in a way that other fast food chains have not, and has almost like a cult-like devotion amongst its fans. The salad-bar craze went right on by it, and none of its fans noticed. Many of the restaurants are open 24 hours. The interiors are mostly black and white.
The chain has a bit of a down-scale image — as the joke goes amongst fans, “Chateau Blanc” it’s not. French Fries are called “spikes.” Their hamburgers are square, and are called “Slyders”, were so named first by customers because the hamburgers are so soft, they seem to slide right down you with a minimum of chewing. White Castle embraced the name, and trademarked it. Now, fans call their burgers “belly bombers.”
The burger patties are actually very small, just 2 1/2 inches (6 cm) square. One pound (450g) of ground beef will make 18 of White Castle hamburger patties. Each burger has five holes in it. The patties are steam-grilled on top of a bed of chopped onion. The onion was fresh onion a long time ago; now it is reconstituted from dried chopped onion in water for three to four hours. White Castle says the patties are cooked on a “grill” — technically, what they use is actually a cast aluminum “griddle.” Their founder, Ingram, in fact, correctly referred to them as “griddles.” No additional fat is used in cooking the patties, just the fat that is already in them. To heat the square white buns the patties are served in, the bottom bun is placed on top of the patty, which causes the bottom bun to soak up juices, and the top bun is leaned off it to steam. The patty is served with the cooked onion on the soft steamed buns, with one slice of dill pickle as the garnish inside. People seem to eat at least four of their hamburgers at a time.
They also now serve Breakfast Sandwiches, Cheeseburgers (as well as Bacon Cheeseburgers and Double Cheeseburgers), Cheese Sticks, Chicken Rings, Chicken Ring Sandwiches, Chicken Sandwiches, Double Hamburgers, Fish Sandwiches, French-Fries, and Onion Rings. The fish and the chicken are deep-fried.
White Castle was one of the first restaurants to install electric dishwashers, and so one of the first to discover the “coffee cup” problem. Almost every coffee cup in the world has a rim or inverted bottom. Coffee cups are put through dishwashers upside down, naturally, and this bottom rim then becomes a receptacle for catching and holding water, even after the dry cycle has run. Ingram designed and had made coffee cups with slots in the rim that allowed the rinse water to run out.
Their first slogan was, “Buy ’em by the sack.” The slogan as of 2003 is, “It’s What You Crave.”
J. Walter Anderson was a short order cook, working for somebody else. He hit upon the idea of cooking a thin hamburger patty on onions on a griddle for a short period of time. Edgar Waldo Ingram, soon to be Anderson’s partner, later wrote: “he would place a patty of meat on the griddle, flatten it with a spatula, mash some shredded onions into it, turn the patty over, place both halves of the bun over it to catch the heat, juice and aroma and cook it for a short time on a hot fire. This method produced a warm, tasty and nutritious sandwich.”  This has provoked some debate, however: in the same piece, Ingram, in referring to acquiring stainless steel pots in 1930, says, “a stainless steel pot for freshly sliced onions.”  The question has still not been settled to anyone’s satisfaction whether Anderson originally used shredded or sliced onions, or whether he started with shredded in the early days, and transitioned to sliced.
In any event, the onions are now chopped, and however Anderson did them at the time, his method of cooking hamburgers was popular enough for him to strike out on his own.
- 1916 — The first store opened in Wichita, Kansas in 1916 in the premises of an old shoe store (Billy Ingram says it was a “renovated streetcar.” ) For customers, Anderson had a table and 3 stools. He borrowed 80 dollars to get started. For opening day, he got the buns and meat from a local grocer on credit. Between 1916 and 1920, he opened two additional stores in Wichita, giving him three stores in total. His slogan was “Buy ’em by the sack,” but the hamburger stands weren’t great looking.
- 1920 — Anderson buys a home through a real estate agent named Edgar Waldo Ingram (aka “Billy.” Born 28 December 1880 in Leadville, Colorado. Died 20 May 1966.) Ingram also sold insurance. When Anderson went to lease his third stand in Wichita, referred to above, the real estate agent handling the deal was Ingram again.
- 1921 — Anderson turned to Ingram again for help in finding a location for the fourth stand. Ingram did more than that. He cosigned the lease, and put $700 of his own money in to boot. The two decided to operate as a partners. Ingram decided to come up with a corporate branding for the company, and he did, by inventing the name “White Castle.” “White” in the name was meant to conjure up associations of cleanliness, and Castle, “strength.” Up to this time, hamburger had a bad reputation; it faced accusations of being unclean, unsafe and tainted. To counter this, they exposed the kitchen to customers, so customers could see what was going into their food and how it was handled. They boasted of two fresh deliveries of beef everyday, which they had their staff grind into hamburger in open sight so customers could see it was pure. They also made all their food preparers wear white prep hats (and patented the design of them), and created a subsidiary company, the Paperlynen (sic) Company, to make them. Paperlynen also sold paper products to other restaurants. It’s owing to this fourth, 1921 store, opened under the new name of “White Castle”, that some sources state erroneously that White Castle first started in 1921. White Castle people today refer to the store as #4, and believe it was opened in March of 1921: but they aren’t sure how they know that, for as far as they know, no one recorded the actual date. The cost of the hamburgers was 5 cents.
- 1924 — The company was incorporated as the “White Castle System of Eating Houses.” In the same year, a fifth hamburger stand was opened in Kansas City. Between then and 1930, another eleven more stores would be opened.
- 1927 – Ingram and Anderson acquired a plane to start visiting their stores, a Curtis OX-5 Travel Air biplane, maroon coloured, with “White Castle system” painted on it. Anderson learned how to fly, not Ingram. Anderson was very interested in planes. In the same year, a porcelain enamel over steel building concept was designed by Lloyd W. Ray, modelling them after the castle-like Chicago Water Tower on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The water tower had survived the Chicago fire of 1871, two years after it was built. The buildings Ray designed were meant to be portable, because White Castle was leasing land. Between 1928 and 1956, fifty-five of these made. White Castle opened its own plant to produce the buildings, which were then were shipped unassembled to a new location, and put together there. The interior of the restaurants was black and white.
- 1929 — The Depression hits America by the end of 1929. White Castle’s market was originally the working-class. For many working-class Americans of the era, it was the only “restaurant” they ever ate in. But as poverty set in, hitting the working-class the hardest, they often didn’t even have the nickel to spare for a hamburger. White Castle had to switch to targeting the middle class, which still had some disposable income. They gave out bridge score cards shaped like their restaurants, on which were listed all the nearest restaurant locations.
- 1930 — Ingram paid for the University of Minnesota  to conduct a study in 1930, as part of his campaign to convince the middle class that his hamburgers were healthy. The researcher assigned to the task, the head of the physiological chemistry department, hired a student, and monitored him over the next eight weeks as he ate only water, and twenty to twenty-four White Castle hamburgers a day. At the end of the trial, the researcher pronounced the student perfectly healthy, though he recommended the addition of a small amount of calcium to the flour in the buns, and that a certain ratio of patty to bun be maintained to assure a certain balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat. In the same year, the first White Castle opened in New York City.
- 1931 — White Castle began serving each burger in its own individual cardboard box (they still sold that way as of 2007, and have never switched to using Styrofoam instead, as most other burger places did.) They also promoted take-out service, causing Anderson’s slogan “Buy ’em by the sack” to really came into play. Previously, before the box, the ones at the bottom of any take-out bag would get squished. The boxes also kept the burgers warmer, so that the take-out food both tasted and looked good when it reached the place where it would be consumed. The take-out promotion solved a dilemma for Ingram. He wanted to build business, but their five-stool interior restaurants could only handle so much volume at a time. Take-out solved the problem. In the same year, the restaurants switched to using frozen, ready-to-cook patties.
- 1932 — White Castle ran coupons for families in newspapers, the first fast-food restaurant to do so. The coupons offered five hamburgers for the price of two. The coupons first ran in St Louis, 3 June 1932. In the same year, White Castle created a hostess with the working name of “Julia Joyce” who travelled from White Castle location to White Castle location. In advance, in each area, women grouped by the neighbourhood they lived in were sent letters inviting them to their local White Castle at a certain time for a tour. Included in each letter was a coupon that would allow them to purchase five take-out hamburgers for just 10 cents. Women came in droves with their coupons, got tours of the kitchens, backrooms and basements and left with their bags of bargain hamburgers. The bags also contained yet more hamburger coupons for their children for the following week. Julia also gave samples to women’s clubs. She come to their meetings bringing free sacks of White Castle hamburgers, plus coffee, soft drinks and White Castle pie, demonstrating how easy it was to cater for meetings with White Castle’s take-out service. Julia took copies of the research report pronouncing the student completely healthy everywhere with her. Julia’s name was actually “Ella Louise Agniel”, a former legal secretary. Ella would later take charge of all of White Castle’s public relations.
- 1933 — Ingram bought out Anderson. Anderson’s interest in planes had grown, and he wanted to work in the field.
- 1934 — By September of this year, White Castle’s headquarters were shifted an old tire factory that Ingram bought and renovated on Goodale Street in Columbus, Ohio, where they still are today. Ingram had previously personally been involved with both the Rotary and the Masons, and he continued his involvement in Columbus. In the same year, he also set up a formal corporate subsidiary called the “Porcelain Steel Building Company” to make their pre-fab stands, and to make similar buildings for other people such as gas stations
- 1939 — White Castle did well during the depression. Not only did it stay in business and make in-roads into the middle class, the number of restaurants grew from over 100 to 130, and the number of people working for White Castle doubled.
- 1941 — In the last quarter of the year, America joined the Second World War. During this time, expansion was halted, not to be resumed until the 1950s. Prior to the war, Ingram had refused to hire women or blacks for the stands (he did, though, have women in head office.) In 1941 alone, he lost half his staff who switched to higher-paying defence jobs, or who joined the army. At first he tried still sticking to white men only by lowering the hiring standards, but then he had to give in against his own policy of no women in the stores. In the end, White Castle relied heavily on female employees during the war. However, “despite the constant labor shortage … White Castle never tapped the abundant supply of available African American workers with the exception of one cleaning woman hired during World War II.”  By the end of the war, Ingram had to admit that women were actually more dependable and had made the stores more profitable than men. But old prejudices die hard: in 1964, he still wrote “despite the increase in turnover naturally resulting from hiring women.”  Sugar was rationed right away. This meant that White Castle had to cut back on the sugar it put in its pies, and on the sugar allowed its customers for their coffees. There was a larger impact when Coca Cola’s syrup was classified as sugar, and the supply of Coke dried up. Coffee was restricted from 1941 to 1943. In 1943, meat rationing came in. They often ran out of beef for hamburgers. They tried things other than hamburgers: egg sandwiches, chop suey, fish burgers, baked beans, chili, and soy burgers, but people came to White Castle for hamburgers, and without them, many White Castle restaurants had to be closed.
- 1944 — Ingram looks into the use of dehydrated onion for the cooking process.
- 1945 — The number of White Castle restaurants had shrunk from 130 down to 87 restaurants by the end of the war in 1945, and the food shortages continued for a few years afterwards. The men came home, but they didn’t return to work at White Castle: they returned to a booming economy in which there were lots of other jobs for them. Even the women left the workforce, and returned back to the ideal of being housewives. At the same time, Ingram had to raise the price of the hamburgers for the first time ever from 5 cents to 10 cents owing to increased costs since 1921. Sales fell further.
- 1949 — Ingram added 5 holes to the patties to help the meat cook more evenly, which meant they didn’t need to be flipped. This also resulted in less meat being required per patty, saving costs at a time of rising beef wholesale costs. Some say that using less beef also helped to re-assure Ingram: he had seen what meat rationing had done to his business, and he feared that it might be re-introduced owing to the Korean War (this may be putting something retroactively into Ingram’s mind, given that the Korean War didn’t start until 25 June 1950.) He patented the “five holes in a pattie” idea in 1954.
- 1950s — Ingram resisted advertising on TV, adding French fries, and expanding into suburbs. Consequently he got left behind by the middle classes he had worked so hard to win over as they left the inner cities in America, and once again his market went back to being that of the urban poor. Competitors such as Steak N Shake, A&W and McDonald’s went into the suburbs, and literally, ate White Castle’s lunch there. During the 1950s, blacks were allowed to purchase food from the take-out window at some White Castles, but were still not allowed to eat inside.
- 1953 — White Castle started a mass-mailing campaign.
- 1961 — White Castle has by 1961 sold 1 billion burgers since it started business, at a time when McDonalds was just starting to pick up steam. McDonalds would reach its 1 billion number in 1963.
- 1962 — White Castle introduced Cheese Burgers: they weren’t the first, however, to sell cheeseburgers.
- 1963 — July and August of this year saw protests against White Castle’s race-based hiring polices were organized by James Farmer (20 January 1920 – 9 July 1999.) The protests were held at locations such as the White Castle on Boston Road in Brooklyn, where, reputedly, only 4 workers out of 126 were black. Hogan writes: “[After] a brief boycott in New York City in July 1963 — White Castle actively started recruiting more black workers…”
- 1964 — The price of a White Castle burger is raised to 12 cents.
- 1966 — The White Castle chain is back up to nearly 90 stores. Ingram dies, and is succeeded by his son, Edgar W. Ingram Jr.
- 1968 — White Castle reaches the “2 billion hamburgers sold since start-up” mark.
- 1969 — The number of stores reaches 112. For the past three years, Ingram Jr had been putting White Castles in the suburbs.
- 1975 — White Castle reaches the “4 billion hamburgers sold since start-up” mark.
- 1977 — Edgar W. Ingram Jr. retires. His son, Edgar W. “Bill” Ingram III, becomes president at the age of 30. Bill opened nine new stores in his first year.
- 1986 — White Castle started selling frozen hamburgers and cheeseburgers in grocery stores. They were sold in frozen food section in boxes of six, and designed to be reheated in the microwave. The frozen ones are still sold (as of 2007.) They don’t have the pickle on them, as it wouldn’t survive the freezing.
- 1989 — White Castle now numbers over 200 stores.
- 1990s — White Castle had been in Kansas in the 1930s, but closed there in 1938. In the 1990s, they attempted a come-back in Kansas, but this time around didn’t take off, either. The store closed in 2001.
- 1997 — The hamburgers were 49 cents each.
- 1998 — White Castle added frozen breakfast sandwiches to its grocery-store offerings.
- 2001 — White Castle introduced the Crave Case: a carton with a handle that comes with thirty hamburgers in it. It has since become a bit of a status symbol to be able to eat a Crave Case on your own.
- 2001 — By August of this year, the restaurant count is 349.
- 2005 — By February of this year, the restaurant count was 393.
- 2006 — The hamburgers were 51 cents each.
 Ingram, E.W, Sr. “All This from a 5-cent Hamburger!: The Story of the White Castle System.” The Newcomen Society in North America: New York. June 1964. September 2001 printing. page 10
 Ibid., page 18.
 Ibid., page 10.
 The University of Minnesota is identified as the research location by David G. Hogan (in White Castle: Billy Ingram’s Burger. In Timeline: Ohio Historical Society. Columbus, Ohio. Vol 16: # 2 March / April 1999, p 12) , and by White Castle Records held by the Ohio Historical Society [MSS 991 – White Castle System, Inc. Records, 1921-1991: Series XIII. Box 59, folder 12.] Some articles, however, say “University of Michigan.” This could be a typo on their part. CooksInfo.com has been unable to date to locate the actual name of the researcher.
 Hogan, David Gerald. Selling ’em by the Sack. New York: New York University Press. 1997.
 Ingram, E.W, Sr. “All This from a 5-cent Hamburger!: The Story of the White Castle System.” The Newcomen Society in North America: New York. June 1964. September 2001 printing. page 25.
 David Gerald Hogan in (Selling ’em by the Sack. New York: New York University Press. 1997) asserts that White Castle never segregated its restaurants racially. Yet, Dr Tony Evans (Senior Pastor, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas) writes “Whenever I go home to Baltimore, my route home takes me past White Castle. The White Castle was the fast-food restaurant before the advent of McDonald’s. As a child, I was not allowed to eat in the White Castle dining room because I was black. They were pleased to take my money at the take-out window, but “eating in” was definitely out. Though I didn’t fully understand it at the time, I was still angered by that restriction. Thank God for my father, who interpreted everything in the spiritual realm. “Boy,” he would say, “You’re a child of the King. If they don’t want royal blood in their restaurant, then don’t go in there.” (www.tonyevans.org/speakout/booklets/destroy.htm. Sourced February 2006.)
“Its 10th branch in Chicago will be opened by the White Castle System of Eating Houses, Inc, at 1644 E. 79th St. tomorrow. The ground on which the branch stands was leased for a period of 10 years from the John R. O’Connor real estate organization, 1653 E. 79th St., at an undisclosed consideration. In honor of the owner of the site, the White Castle branch will designate tomorrow as John R. O’Connor day. The restaurant concern has been in operation for 11 years and has grown from one stand to 103 stands in 18 cities. All of the Chicago branches are located on the South side.” — Open White Castle Shop at 1644 E. 79th Tomorrow. Chicago, Illinois: Southtown Economist. Friday, 2 May 1930. Page 11.
“Totaling $61,915 in value, profit-sharing proceeds have been distributed for the year 1930 to employees of the White Castle System of Eating Houses corporation. The sum is equivalent to a 10 per cent dividend on the company’s capital assets, H. R. Lewis, manager of the Chicago establishments of the concern, states. “This profit-sharing fund,” he said, “is based on the theory that capital should recognize that if it will work for labor in the proper spirit it automatically gains a like spirit of cooperation from labor which results in a complete harmony of effort. “Under the White Castle plan, the man behind the counter is paid in proportion to the business he produces and not in proportion to the way the money produced by his efforts is handled by the executive personnel of the company.” — White Castle Employees Get $69,915 in Profits. Chicago, Illinois: Southtown Economist. Friday, 19 December 1930. Page 6.
“Detroit, Jan. 6 — A legal battle between two nation-wide chains of hamburger lunch rooms struck a stalemate in United States district court because the master in chancery never had eaten a hamburger.
The controversy is between the White Castle and the White Tower systems. Each is seeking an injunction to restrain the other from using advertising and sales methods which they claim are an imitation of their own original method. The White Tower people claim that the White Castle folks copied their style of lunch counter and sales. The White Castle organization has the same complaint against the White Tower.
The case was referred to William S. Sayres Jr., standing master in chancery, for hearing. Yesterday, after officials of the two groups had stated their cases, Mr. Sayres made a confession.
“I can’t just get the picture,” said he. “I’m not certain I know just what a hamburger is… could it be like a hot dog?”
The hearings will reopen today and Mr. Sayres probably will be plentifully supplied with hamburgers.” — Associated Press. Hot Dog! Master in Chancery Doesn’t Know What Hamburger Is! Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin: Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune. Wednesday, 6 January 1932. Page 1
Literature & Lore
The movie, “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” (2004), features the journey of a two young American men to a White Castle restaurant in New Jersey.
Hogan, David G. White Castle: Billy Ingram’s Burger. In Timeline: Ohio Historical Society. Columbus, Ohio. Vol 16: # 2 March / April 1999, pp 3 to 19.
Ingram, E.W, Sr. “All This from a 5-cent Hamburger!: The Story of the White Castle System”. The Newcomen Society in North America: New York. June 1964. September 2001 printing.