Today is National Cheeseburger Day, which honors an American tradition that’s been going on for several decades. It all started in the late 1920s, but who created the first one is still the big question.
One early example appeared on a menu in 1928 for a Los Angeles restaurant O’Dell’s which listed the item smothered with chili for $0.25 cents.
Traditionally, the slice of cheese is placed on top of the meat patty, but the burger can include many variations in structure, ingredients and composition.
The cheese is usually sliced, and then added to the cooking hamburger patty shortly before the patty is completely cooked, which allows the cheese to melt.
Lionel Sternberger is reputed to have invented the cheeseburger in 1926 at the age of 16 when he was working as a fry cook at his father’s Pasadena, California sandwich shop, “The Rite Spot,” and “experimentally dropped a slab of American cheese on a sizzling hamburger.”
Other restaurants say they invented the menu item. For example, Kaelin’s Restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, says it invented it in 1934.
One year later, a trademark for the name “cheeseburger” was awarded to Louis Ballast of the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In in Denver, Colorado.
According to Steak ‘n Shake archives, the restaurant’s founder, Gus Belt, applied for a trademark on the word in the 1930s.
We will never know who invented it, but the cheeseburger has been part of the American culture for more than 80 years.