The hamburger is a staple of American cuisine (and the perfect partner to a milkshake and fries) with a long and delicious history. It started out simply: a humble piece of meat sandwiched between two slices of white bread. Today, the burger industry is booming with all sorts of creative and delectable twists on the classic sandwich. 

Have you ever wondered how the burger evolved from sandwich to ramen? We’re here to fill you in.

The 1920s: The White Castle Original Slider

In 1921, the first White Castle restaurant opened in Kansas. This marked the beginning of the modern hamburger industry. White Castle sold their original sliders, consisting of a “100% beef patty with onions and a pickle.” These sliders were pretty tiny, so people would usually just buy a sack of sliders to split with a friend (or SO—burger date, anyone?).

The 1930s: The Cheeseburger

hamburger bun, hamburger, tomato, mayonnaise, ketchup, cheddar, lettuce, cheese, sandwich, bread, bun
Alex Frank

Many say that the first cheeseburger was invented in the late 1920s, but others firmly claim its foundation as being in the 30s. Regardless, it’s safe to say that the creation took off pretty fast. According to burger legend, a homeless man made the suggestion to a chef in passing and, voila—the cheeseburger was born.

The 1940s: In-N-Out Burger & The Drive-Thru

The first ever In-N-Out burger stand was established in 1948 in California. What’s special about this joint is that it was the first drive-through burger restaurant—ever.

The 1950s: The Fast Food Burger & McDonald’s

Alex Frank

Ahhhhhh, Mickey D’s, the biggest love/hate of my childhood and my sworn frenemy until the end of time. The first McDonald’s restaurant was established in 1955, claiming fast service and delicious burgers. Since then, the company has taken off and is now the most popular fast food chain in the world.

Burger King was founded around the same time and released its famous Whopper sandwich. Since then, the feud between the two fast food giants has grown exponentially and many other burger chains are trying to get in on the competition.

The 1960s: The Bacon Burger

sauce, bacon, cheese
Judy Holtz

I don’t know why it took almost 40 years for someone to put bacon on a cheeseburger and increase its deliciousness even more, but thank god they did. This meaty monster was born in 1963 when Dale Mulder of A&W Restaurants decided to put some beautiful strips of meat onto a cheeseburger. I think it’s safe to say this comes from all us: we love you, Dale.

The 1970s: Hamburger Helper

Because buns were getting boring, Betty Crocker introduced this item to the world in 1971. It quickly became a staple of the decade.

The 1980s: The Veggie Burger

guacamole, beef, meat, lettuce, bread, sandwich, avocado
Parisa Soraya

This meat-free patty was originally created in London, but made popular by Paul Wenner (an Oregon gourmet vegetarian chef) when he created and branded the Gardenburger. Now vegheads can enjoy America’s signature food, too (kind of).

The 1990s: The Burger of The Month

During the 90s, McDonald’s tried a new promotional campaign they dubbed “The Burger of the Month.” Each month, Mickey D’s would release a funky-ish burger for a limited time only. Pictured above is the Cheddar Melt, also called the McCheddar. This baby was loaded up with cheddar cheese sauce and onions.

Sadly (but also maybe not), the “Burger of the Month” was a short fad that only lasted in the 90s, left in the past with soul patches, boy bands, and scrunchies.

The 2000s: The Gourmet Burger

guacamole, beef, meat, lettuce, bread, sandwich, avocado
Parisa Soraya

The gourmet burger developed in the 2000s with restaurants like Red Robin, which became famous for exorbitant toppings and wildly delicious creations. Chefs piled their burgers up with guac, crispy onion straws, crazy sauces, fancy cheeses, etc., etc., etc. It was gourmet burger heaven.

This marks a significant and recent change in the idea of the burger—it started to become more than just the classic meat patty with a couple simple toppings. It became extravagant.

The 2010s: Buns That Aren’t Buns

Angie Huang

Burgers with doughnuts as buns. Burgers with ramen noodles as buns. Waffles as buns. Black-dyed buns. Grilled cheese buns. Anything but Plain Jane sesame buns to make our boring-bunned burgers beautifully bizarre.

If you haven’t tried one of these novelty creations, find out where and when you can. Then, guiltlessly stuff your face in the name of research.

Now: The BYOB (Build Your Own Burger)

cheese, bacon
Alex Weiner

Gone are the days of letting the chefs have all the fun and creative control. Now, we let them cook the parts and we put the pieces together however we want. Even McDonald’s is getting in on the BYOB buzz.

You pick the bun. You pick the meat. You pick the cheese, the sauce, and the toppings. Don’t forget the add-ins and the extras. Ya feelin’ an egg on that guacamole and Colby Jack bison burger? Go for it.

So there you have it: the burger through time. Well, at least up until this point. Where will this classically American sandwich take us next? Only time will tell, my carnivorous cohort. Only time will tell.