History of White Castle

The first and the oldest burger chain — and it’s still operating

White Castle is America’s first and the oldest existing hamburger chain. It launched several innovations that other burger fast food chains would adopt in later years. White Castle’s signature food item is the small burgers which are called “sliders.” They have won over the hearts and taste buds of many burger lovers with its unique taste and way of serving food. White Castle has become a well-known brand in the fast-food industry thanks to its unique approach to quick and easy meals and affordable prices. With numerous locations across multiple states, White Castle continues to be a go-to choice for those seeking a delicious and satisfying burger experience.

Launching several fast-food innovations

The fast food chain was established in Wichita, Kansas in 1921 by founders Walt A. Anderson and Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram. The establishment was meant to change the public perception about the poor food sanitation practices, most especially in meat packing. Soon White Castle opened a few more restaurants around the Midwest, with their buildings’ interiors built with white porcelain elements, evoking cleanliness in their products.

Because of White Castle’s astounding success, a number of competing imitators mushroomed. Nevertheless, none of them were able to match White Castle’s success. In 1924 Anderson and Ingram incorporated their business, named White Castle System Of Eating Houses Corporation.

The company saw many firsts and important innovations such as the first hamburger bun, credited to Anderson. White Castle introduced standardization methods, especially in serving the burger – no matter what White Castle branch you are in, you will be assured of the same quality burger with the same size as with the other White Castle stores. This method would be generally adopted in the whole fast food industry.

White Castle | Fast Food Mania

White Castle’s burgers used to be made of fresh beef patties and onions. When White Castle started, these sliders were sold at five cents each.

White Castle was the first fast food burger chain in the country, and as the fast food concept was still new then, the company had no means of sourcing their supplies so they also began to establish their own bakeries (for the buns) as well as their own meat processing plants. The chain made another innovation when they built its subsidiary Paperlynen, which supplied paper hats for its workers. During its prime, White Castle’s extensive distribution network spanned from Wichita to New York. In 1955, Paperlynen, a company associated with White Castle, produced an astonishing 42 million paper hats worldwide, featuring over 25,000 unique inscriptions.

A year after Anderson sold his interest in the company to Ingram in 1933, White Castle moved its offices from Wichita, Kansas to Columbus, Ohio. Around the same time the business continued to expand, with the establishment of Porcelain Steel Building which gave White Castle’s chain of restaurants the unique exterior of their buildings. 

By the 1940s the cost of the burgers rose from five to ten cents apiece, and the burgers were no longer made of fresh beef patties but of frozen, square patties By the 1950s the burgers had added five holes onto the patties to facilitate cooking as well as to eliminate the need for flipping them over. This was made in order to speed up the cooking time.

Small (as their sliders) but successful

The chain had also published its own magazine the White Castle Official House Organ which was meant for the employees of the fast food chain. Originally titled The Hot Hamburger, the magazine existed from the 1920s up the early 1990s.

White Castle remains privately-owned and its 400-plus outlets are owned by the company as they are not franchised. Ingram, who was also the company’s president, had steadfastly resisted the idea of franchising his restaurants; his policies still strongly resonate up to this day. White Castle is now headed by Ingram’s grandson Edgar Waldo Ingram III; Ingram Sr.’s son Ingram Jr had taken over the position of CEO following the co-founder’s death in 1966.

At the turn of the new century, White Castle has continued to grow, with the expansion plan of opening 20 to 25 outlets each year.

As it is the first fast-food restaurant, White Castle is responsible for popularizing the hamburger into mainstream American cuisine. Despite its modest size, its success story led others to build their own hamburger empire, and that includes McDonald’s.

White Castle’s burgers used to be made of fresh beef patties and onions. When White Castle started, these sliders were sold at five cents each.

White Castle was the first fast food burger chain in the country, and as the fast food concept was still new then, the company had no means of sourcing their supplies so they also began to establish their own bakeries (for the buns) as well as their own meat processing plants. The chain made another innovation when they built its subsidiary Paperlynen, which supplied paper hats for its workers.

A year after Anderson sold his interest in the company to Ingram in 1933, White Castle moved its offices from Wichita, Kansas to Columbus, Ohio. Around the same time the business continued to expand, with the establishment of Porcelain Steel Building which gave White Castle’s chain of restaurants the unique exterior of their buildings.

By the 1940s the cost of the burgers rose from five to ten cents apiece, and the burgers were no longer made of fresh beef patties but of frozen, square patties By the 1950s the burgers had added five holes onto the patties to facilitate cooking as well as to eliminate the need for flipping them over. This was made in order to speed up the cooking time.

The chain had also published its own magazine the White Castle Official House Organ which was meant for the employees of the fast food chain. Originally titled The Hot Hamburger, the magazine existed from the 1920s up the early 1990s.

White Castle remains privately-owned and its 400-plus outlets are owned by the company as they are not franchised. Ingram, who was also the company’s president, had steadfastly resisted the idea of franchising his restaurants; his policies still strongly resonate up to this day. White Castle is now headed by Ingram’s grandson Edgar Waldo Ingram III; Ingram Sr.’s son Ingram Jr had taken over the position of CEO following the co-founder’s death in 1966.

At the turn of the new century, White Castle has continued to grow, with the expansion plan of opening 20 to 25 outlets each year.

As it is the first fast-food restaurant, White Castle is responsible for popularizing the hamburger into mainstream American cuisine. Despite its modest size, its success story led others to build their own hamburger empire, and that includes McDonald’s.

The popularity of White Castle spawned a wave of imitators who tried to replicate its unique architecture and name. One of the earliest imitators was Little Kastle in Wichita, and many others followed suit with creative variations on the White Castle name. These imitators often created variations of the White Castle name by replacing “Castle” with their own words, such as Cabin, Crescent, Diamond, or Wonder. On the other hand, others opted to replace “White” with a different color or adjective, like Blue, Magic, Red, Royal, or Silver. However, despite the competition, only a few of these imitators were able to achieve the same level of success as White Castle. (1) 

Location Expansion

The very first White Castle in the western United States opened its doors at the Casino Royale Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip on January 27, 2015, marking a significant expansion for the chain into a new region after 56 years of operating only in the Midwest and Northeast. However, the response was overwhelming, with such high demand for food that the restaurant had to temporarily close for two hours on its first day of business to restock. According to White Castle Vice President Jamie Richardson, they were able to sell a remarkable 4,000 sliders per hour during its first 12 hours of operation, setting a record. In fact, Richardson stated that in the company’s 94-year history, he was unaware of any similar temporary closure due to unexpected demand.  (2)

Also, through a partnership with ClearVue Partners, a company based in Shanghai, White Castle opened its first and second restaurants in China in the city of Shanghai in 2017. The Shanghai location sells beef sliders as well as spicy tofu sliders and cherry duck sliders, which are smoked ducks topped with a sweet cherry sauce. When they first opened, these two White Castle restaurants were the only ones outside of the United States. (3)

In connection, White Castle has also never opened a restaurant in Canada, but since 2015, Canadians have been able to buy White Castle hamburgers in the frozen food section of some grocery and convenience stores and, more recently, at Walmart. In the same year, in September, White Castle introduced Veggie Sliders with dairy-free buns to cater to the growing demand for a vegan option among its menu offerings. 

Subsequently, in December 2015, White Castle announced that its CEO, E.W. “Bill” Ingram III, would step down from his position at the end of the year, but would continue to serve as the chairman of the board. Following his departure, Lisa Ingram, his daughter, assumed the role of the fourth CEO of the company. (4)

A second White Castle location opened in Las Vegas on September 22, 2017, located on Fremont Street, and shortly after, a third location opened in Jean. These expansions highlight the enthusiastic reception and popularity of White Castle in the western United States. In 2018, White Castle further expanded its menu by offering plant-based meat Impossible Burgers that closely mimic the flavor and texture of beef burgers, catering to the growing demand for plant-based options. (4) 

White Castle continued its expansion efforts, opening its first location in Arizona in October 2019 and announcing its return to Florida in November 2019 after leaving the state in 1968. A ghost kitchen operated out of the Orlando location during its construction, but when it opened for one day on February 24, 2021, it caused Uber Eats to be overloaded with orders. The Orlando location eventually opened on May 3, 2021, coinciding with White Castle’s 100th anniversary. It is now the world’s largest White Castle, located at Daryl Carter Parkway off Interstate 4. These recent expansions reflect White Castle’s continued growth and popularity as a beloved fast-food chain with a rich history and dedicated fan base. (5)

References:

(1) Goldberg, Ryan (November 23, 2010). “The Origins of Cult-Favorite Fast Food Restaurants: White Castle”. Minyanville. Archived from the original on December 4, 2017. Retrieved December 25, 2014.

(2) “First Las Vegas White Castle opens to feeding frenzy”. WESH. January 30, 2015. Retrieved May 24, 2015.

(3) Eaton, Dan (August 26, 2017). “Cherry duck sliders and spicy tofu: White Castle expands to China”. Columbus Business First.

(4) Goldfield, Hannah (April 14, 2018). “Can White Castle Sell the Impossible—the Meatless Burger That Bleeds?”. New Yorker.

(5) Krietz, Andrew (May 3, 2021). “Florida White Castle opens today”. wtsp.com. Retrieved May 4, 2021.