The Invention of the Cheeseburger: The Original Burger Battle
The Denver Burger Battle returns August 2nd pinning Denver’s best local restaurants against each other for the title of Denver’s best burger. This competition is entering its 9th year but the original burger battle, the battle of who invented the first cheeseburger, has been going on in Denver since the early 1930’s. Two cities fight over the birthplace rights for the cheeseburger, Louisville KY and Denver CO, but with the hamburger an established part of the American menu since the late 1800’s; who was the first to re-imagine it and create the first cheeseburger?
Louisville Kentucky, 1934
Carl Kaelin opened his opened his restaurant Kaelin’s, focusing on deluxe plates he was determined to make it the best restaurant in town. Often described as an innovator, Kaelin was always looking for ways to challenge traditional menus. His family run restaurant was a staple in the Louisville community, offering visitors a home town feel and original recipes. Kaelin’s closed in 2009 and replaced with another restaurant but the sign honoring their achievement as the “birthplace of the cheeseburger” still stands where the restaurant used to be. Kaelin’s isn’t the only place to make this claim so the question remains, is it true?
The legend: Kaelin was in his kitchen flipping burgers when the American cheese on the counter caught his eye. Instead of putting it away he decided to place a slice on top of his burgers, after seeing the cheese melt perfectly into the patty and tasting how well it complemented the burger he added it to his menu. It was an instant hit and the cheeseburger was born!
Or was it?…
Denver Colorado, 1935
In the early 1930’s Dorothy and Louis Ballast opened Denver’s first Drive-In burger place, Humpty Dumpty. Lovingly referred to as “the barrel” due to its shape this little burger shop was a Denver favorite, bringing in people from across Colorado. Run by the couple and their five children Louis Ballast was always “playing with his food” often fighting with his son David about why it was even necessary to add toppings to a hamburger. The shop eventually closed down but in 1987 a local dairy association placed monument at the site of the old shop honoring it as the first to sell cheeseburgers. Is the monument true?
The legend: Louis Ballast, “Mr. Cheeseburger” was always looking to revolutionize what he thought of as boring burgers. According to The Denver Post, Ballast first attempting to sweeten the burgers, his toppings included Hershey’s bars and peanut butter. Those toppings never really took off so he expanded his search for the perfect topping eventually choosing the American cheese they kept on hand in their shop. It was so well received Louis applied for and was granted a trademark for the cheeseburger on March 5, 1935, but passed away while attempting to secure exclusive rights to his invention.
So, who invented the cheeseburger? While it is still unclear and widely disputed Louis Ballast has a strong case for being the winner. His trademark and monument solidify his claim but that trademark was given to him over a year after Carl Kaelin added the iconic sandwich to his menu in 1934. One thing we do know is that chefs from across the globe continue to innovate the cheese burger, putting their own spin on the classic menu item just as Ballast and Kaelin once did.