Did a Danish immigrant invent the hamburger?

hamburger patty

Did a Danish immigrant invent the hamburger?

The history of the hamburger is still a matter of much dispute. There are several different versions of the historical origins, but only one has been officially recognized by The Library of Congress, as the real thing. At the turn of the 19th century, the Danish immigrant Louis Lassen sold steak sandwiches out of his launch wagon in New Haven, Connecticut.

Traced by:
Marie Nygaard Sørlien

Louis Lassen began his career as a blacksmith in Denmark, emigrating to New Haven in 1886. He went into business for himself as a food peddler, and in 1895 he began selling lunch from his food cart – Louis’ Lunch. The history of the hamburger started a day of summer in 1900 when a local businessman dashed into the small lunch wagon, and asked for a quick lunch to go. According to the Lassen family, the customer exclaimed “Louie! I’m in a rush, slap meatpuck between two planks and step on it!”. Louis, who is described as “a waste-not, want-not kind of guy”, ground up the leftover steak scraps of his own blend of ground steak trimmings, slapped them between two pieces of white bread, gave it to his customer – and voilà – the hamburger was born!

louis lunch
Louis' Lunch Landmark Building

"Louie! I’m in a rush, slap meatpuck between two planks and step on it!”

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Told by The Lassen Family

The item became successful and earned Louis his place in history as the “creator of the hamburger”.

To this day Louis’ Lunch is still going strong and the Lassen family are committed to serving the classic hamburgers. The burgers are now prepared by Louis’ great grandson Jeff Lassen, who currently runs the restaurant. The burger is grilled on the original iron gas grills, served on two sliced of white bread, and cheese, onion and tomato are the only garnishes offered. You can visit the resturant in the same little red-brick castle Louis moved into in 1917, at 261-263 Crown Street in New Haven.

Want ketchup or mustard? Forget it. At Louis’ Lunch you have a burger the Lassen way or not at all. Critics of the restaurant hinge on its dislike of condiments, particularly ketchup. In episode 10 of Burger Land, the “no ketchup”-sign is visible hanging in the restaurant and an informative caption pops up to read: “Yale students who try to sneak in ketchup are asked to leave”. According to American Food Roots, an exchange of stories confirms the policy. Tom Gilbert wrote, “Louis’ Lunch is a very friendly place as long as you get with the program, which always has been about serving quality beef and making sure that nothing ruins or upstages it”. The restaurant review website Menuism goes as far as to note Louis’ Lunch the #2 of “the 5 least welcome places for ketchup”.

Thanks to Louis, Americans eat today nearly 50 billion burgers a year, which translates to three burgers a week for every single person in the United States. In the Nordic countries we also eat a lot of burgers, and it keeps increasing in popularity. In Denmark people eat 46 percent more burgers for dinner than 10 years ago, and Sunday is the most popular day of the week to enjoy a burger.


A little more info

  • Family owned and operated, and currently run by the 4th generation, Louis' Lunch is one of the oldest family-run businesses in the US
  • On the wall inside Louis’ Lunch you can read the sign "this is not Burger King you can't "have it your way." You get it my way or you don't get the damn thing."
  • Over the years, however, there have been questions raised as to the validity of Louis Lassen's claim. According to Connecticut History, at least four other claimants exist, including Otto Kuase, a German cook who sold beef patties in Hamburg, Germany, Charlie Nagreen, who sold his burgers for many years at the Outagamie County Fair in Wisconsin, Fletcher Davis, a café owner in Athens, Texas, and Frank and Charles Menches, two brothers from Akron, Ohio, who claim to have sold their first sandwich in Hamburg, New York
  • Check out more photos of Louis' Lunch at Eater.com, this video if you want to know more about the story and take a look at this guy trying to make Louis’ burgers at home!