July 28: New Haven Serves Up the First Hamburger


July 28, 1900 was shaping up to be an average summer day for lunch wagon owner and German immigrant Louis Lassen, who was serving sandwiches and other hot meals to factory workers in New Haven during their lunch breaks.  Suddenly, a local businessman, Gary Widmore, rushed up to Lassen’s wagon and desperately asked for a quick and delicious lunch he could take on the go.  (According to Lassen family lore, Widmore exclaimed, “Louie! I’m in a rush, slap a meatpuck between two planks and step on it!”)  Lassen then took some ground-up steak trimmings, quickly cooked them in a vertical broiler, and served them between two pieces of toast — and thus, the hamburger was born.

Louis Lassen inside his New Haven lunch wagon, circa 1907-1916.

Claims regarding “the first hamburger in America” are a dime a dozen, but unlike those based in Texas, Ohio, upstate New York, or elsewhere, New Haven has physical evidence, in addition to a wealth of oral history, to support its carnivorous claim to fame.  In 2000, the Library of Congress officially acknowledged that the first American hamburger was served by Louis Lassen.  The very same broiler that cooked up the first hamburger in 1900 — which dates to the 1890s — is still used to cook hamburgers at Louis Lunch today, over 110 years later.   In addition to being the birthplace of the American hamburger, Louis Lunch is also the oldest continuously-operating hamburger restaurant in the United States. Today, the Lassen family continues to own and operate the famous eatery, which has occupied a small brick building on George Street in New Haven since 1917.  Visitors can order an “original burger” made of ground steak trimmings pressed into a patty and served between two pieces of toast. (Be forewarned, however: In the name of authenticity, ketchup is not allowed!)

Further Reading

Owen Rogers, “Louis Lunch and the Birth of the Hamburger,” connecticuthistory.org

History of Louis Lunch,” Louis Lunch restaurant website