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The White Castle hamburger chain is the first Americanmarker hamburger fast food restaurant chain. They are known for small square burgers, sometimes referred to, and today trademarked as "Slyders". They were priced at five cent until the 1940s, and remained at ten cents for years thereafter while growing smaller. For several years, when the original burgers sold for five cents, White Castle periodically ran promotional ads in local newspapers which contained coupons offering five burgers for ten cents, takeout only. The typical White Castle restaurant architecture features a white exterior with a crenelated tower at one corner to resemble a medieval castle. The Chicago Water Towermarker, which stands on Michigan Avenuemarker's Magnificent Mile, is said to be the model for the classic building.


White Castle was founded in 1921 in Wichita, Kansasmarker. Walter A. Anderson partnered with cook Billy Ingram to make White Castle into a chain of restaurants and market White Castle. At the time, Americansmarker were hesitant to eat ground beef after Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel The Jungle had publicized the poor sanitation practices of the meat packing industry. Founders Edgar Waldo "Billy" Ingram and Walter Anderson set out to change the public's perception of the cleanliness of the industry. To invoke a feeling of cleanliness, their restaurants were small buildings with white porcelain enamel on steel exteriors, stainless steel interiors, and outfitted their employees with spotless uniforms. Their first restaurants in Wichita, Kansasmarker, were a success, and the company branched out into other Midwestern markets, starting in 1923 with Omaha, Nebraskamarker. White Castle Building No.marker 8marker, built in Minneapolis, Minnesotamarker in 1936 (photo, right), was an example of the chain's prefabricated porcelain buildings. The building measured by and was made to resemble the Chicago Water Towermarker, with octagonal buttresses, crenelated towers, and a parapet wall.

Anderson is credited with invention of the hamburger bun as well as "the kitchen as assembly line, and the cook as infinitely replaceable technician", hence giving rise to the modern fast food phenomenon. Due to White Castle's innovation of having chain-wide standardized methods, customers could be sure that they would receive the same product and service in every White Castle restaurant. As Henry Ford did for car manufacturing, Anderson and Ingram did for the making of burgers.

Anderson had developed an efficient method for cooking hamburgers, using freshly ground beef and fresh onions. The ground beef was formed into balls by machine, eighteen to a pound, or forty per kilogram. The balls were placed upon a hot grill and topped with a handful of fresh thinly shredded onion. Then they were flipped so that the onion was under the ball. The ball was then squashed down, turning the ball into a very thin patty. The bottom of the bun was then placed atop the cooking patty with the other half of the bun on top of that so that the juices and steam from the beef and the onion would permeate the bun. After grilling, a slice of dill pickle was inserted before serving. Management decreed that any additives, such as ketchup or mustard, were to be added by the customer. Anderson's method is not in use by the chain today, having changed when the company switched from using fresh beef and fresh onion to small, frozen square patties (originally supplied by Swift & Company) which are cooked atop a bed of rehydrated onions laid out on a grill. The heat and steam rises up from the grill, through the onions. In 1949, five holes in the patty were added to facilitate quick and thorough cooking. The very thin patties are not flipped throughout this process. This patented "steam grilled" method is unique among major fast food restaurants.
The signature hamburger
Since fast food was unknown in the United States in that era, there was no infrastructure to support the business, as is common with today's fast food restaurants. The company established centralized bakeries, meat supply plants, and warehouses to supply itself. It was said that the only thing they did not do themselves was raise the cows and grow their own wheat. Ingram developed a machine to create previously unheard of paper hats. In 1932 Ingram set up a subsidiary, Paperlynen to make these hats and other paper products used in their own restaurants as well as many other uses. In 1955 Paperlynen produced over 42 million paper hats world wide with more than 25,000 different inscriptions. They also created a subsidiary in 1934 named Porcelain Steel Buildings that manufactured movable, prefabricated steel frame structures with porcelain enamel interior and exterior panels that could be assembled at any White Castle restaurant site. This is the first known use of this material in a building design.

The company also began publishing its own internal employee magazine, the "White Castle Official House Organ," on November 1, 1925. The bulk of the material was contributed by Castle personnel, mostly letters and photographs of workers, promotion announcements, 25-year milestones and retirements, etc., arranged by geographic area. "Employees about the progress and innovations made by those in other Areas which made everyone aware of the entire System's direction and condition." The House Organ was published quarterly at least through the early 1980s and at some point was renamed "The Slyder Times". The Ohio Historical Societymarker houses an extensive archive of White Castle System, Inc. records from 1921–1991, including issues dating from 1927 to 1970 of the White Castle House Organ.

Ingram's business savvy not only was responsible for White Castle's success, but for the popularization of the hamburger.

A White Castle cheeseburger box
In 1933, Ingram bought out Anderson, and the following year the company moved its corporate headquarters to Columbus, Ohiomarker. The company remains privately held and its restaurants are company-owned; they are not franchised in the United States. Co-founder Billy Ingram was followed as head of the firm by his son E. W. Ingram, Jr. and grandson E. W. Ingram, III.

In concurrence with its 80th anniversary in 2001, White Castle started its Cravers' Hall of Fame. "Cravers" are inducted annually based on stories that are submitted about them, either for them by another person or by that particular Craver. Between five and ten stories have been chosen each year with a grand total of 64 stories being selected through the 2007 induction class, less than 1% of the total stories submitted since the inception of the Cravers' Hall of Fame.

Ingram's steadfast refusal to franchise or take on debt resulted in the chain remaining relatively small. (There are 392 White Castle outlets, all in the United States, compared with about 13,000 McDonald's in the country.) But the company, which is now run by Ingram's grandson, nonetheless has the fast-food industry's second-highest sales revenues per store, trailing only McDonald's.


White Castle is known as an early example of successful fast food marketing. While the White Castle company is based on four earlier hamburger stands owned by Anderson, the current name was chosen by Ingram in 1921 to distinguish it from other fast food outlets. "White" was chosen for its connotations of purity, while the "Castle" element was selected as it suggested stability and permanence. This factor was essential in the store's early successes, so much so that several chains (some of which still exist, such as Krystal) imitated the formula.

White Castle's innovative approach to preparing and presenting its hamburgers created a loyal following that, over time, developed slang used today by patrons and restaurant staff to communicate an order or otherwise discuss White Castle products. For example, a customer ordering a "sack of six with both", will receive six burgers with packets of both ketchup and mustard. (This is also a reference to White Castle's habit of keeping three bottles of condiments at hand for the burgers: ketchup, mustard, and a combination of the two—or "both"). In 1994 White Castle was granted a U.S. trademark on the term "Slyders" which derived from the way the burgers slide out of their cardboard boxes. White Castle's burgers are also sold in frozen boxes in grocery stores nationwide. The frozen White Castle burgers are available with American cheese or without, but both varieties lack the pickle slice standard to burgers purchased fresh, possibly due to their high water content which would make microwave cooking problematic.

White Castle's marketing campaign capitalizes on the unique qualities of its product. "The Crave" is depicted in radio and television spots as a sort of addiction to White Castle burgers. An individual afflicted by "The Crave" can only be satisfied by slyders.

White Castle also markets its slyders in 30-hamburger boxes, dubbed a Crave Case. The figure of thirty burgers represents the number that can be produced on one of its standard grills at the same time. In some stores, a "Crave Crate" is offered, with the contents being 100 burgers. Many of these stores will offer the Crate, but not advertise it on its menu.

Every year on February 14, White Castle offers to reserve a candlelit table for two, complete with a server.

In 2003, White Castle unveiled a new logo and has been promoting the slogan "What You Crave" since 1994.

Typically the breakfast menu is available from 5:00 AM until 10:30 AM, but some stores have attempted to boost overnight sales and start breakfast service as early as midnight. The regular menu is available 24 hours a day. (Some restaurants have started closing at 1 am on weeknights and only staying open all night on Friday and Saturday)


Many Southerners tend to compare White Castle's sliders with Krystal's square burgers. Northerners tend to consider Krystal a Southern knock-off. The two restaurants' locations do not overlap geographically, with the exception of Kentucky and Tennessee.


Image:Whitecastle.png|White Castle's original logo. Used from 1921–2003

Image:White Castle logo.svg|The current White Castle logo. 2003–present

See also

Similar restaurants:

In popular culture

  • Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle – A film in which White Castle allowed its trademarks to be used. It also marks the only fast food movie promotion in history for an "R" Rated film.

  • Futurama: Bender's Game – A direct to DVD animated film in which the characters at some point journey to a place called "Wipe Castle", a parody of White Castle. Banners on the castle have a coat of arms bearing a roll of toilet paper.

  • Saturday Night Fever – The restaurant is displayed predominantly during the scene when Tony Manero and his buddies take Stephanie out with them to eat.

  • Prison Break – When Michael asked for the branch manager to open the vault in a Savings Bank, the cashier claims that he is in White Castle which is a "fast food restaurant" that "serve those little square burgers."(episode 1x1)

  • White Palace - A book by Glenn Savan, later made into a film of the same name starring James Spader & Susan Sarandon, the latter's character a worker at the title location. Though the novel depicts a specific White Castle location in St. Louis, the chain refused permission to use its name in either the novel or the film.


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