The First Fast-Food Chain In The United States Was?
Answer: White Castle
Long before there was McDonald’s or the chains that sprung up in the wake of its success (like Burger King and Taco Bell), there was White Castle. While McDonald’s might have put fast-food branding and incredible efficiency on the map, the fast-food journey started in Wichita, Kansas.
It was there that Walt A. Anderson, who had been running food stands around the city, opened up the first White Castle location in 1921 with his partner and investor Edgar “Billy” Ingram. One of the most significant contributions the duo made to the fast-food industry was an incredible focus on consistency and cleanliness. At the time, the meat industry still hadn’t quite recovered from the poor sanitation practices scandal of the late 19th century and consumers still had a (justifiably) wary view of both the meat packing industry and anything associated with it, like hamburgers.
To combat that, Anderson focused on making his restaurants clean and consistent. Surfaces were stainless steel, walls and employee uniforms were white and spotless, and hamburgers were prepared in exactly the same fashion in every location to build consumer trust that they were receiving a quality (and carefully prepared) hamburger. White Castle’s business practices, including assembly-line like food prep and the establishment of supply chains to provide regular and consistent meat, buns, and even paper products, set the stage for later fast-food chains.
Image courtesy of White Castle.