It's the original fast-food restaurant—the purveyor of tiny burgers with an outsized appeal known simply as "The Crave." White Castle may not be the largest burger chain, but it arguably has the most devoted following, with fans writing songs and directing movies about it, getting married inside restaurants, and carting their sliders all over the world. Not bad for an operation that began as a single hamburger stand in Wichita, Kansas nearly 100 years ago.
1. White Castle’s founder invented the modern hamburger.
Walt Anderson, a short-order cook in Wichita, Kansas, liked to experiment with the size and shape of the hamburger patties he served. His greatest invention, though, was said to have occurred by accident: One day Anderson became so frustrated when the meatballs he was cooking kept sticking to the griddle that he smashed one with a spatula. And thus, the flat patty was born.
2. Walt Anderson also pioneered fast food in America.
In 1916, Anderson opened a hamburger stand with an $80 loan and quickly expanded to four locations. W.E. "Billy" Ingram, a local real estate broker who would eventually become the company's CEO, bought in, and in 1921 they established a chain of small, efficiently run restaurants selling five-cent burgers by the sack. White Castle is widely credited as the first fast food concept in America.
3. Even in 1916, people had "the crave."
According to David G. Hogan's book Selling 'Em by the Sack, Anderson—while working at his original burger stand—noticed several young boys who regularly bought sacks of hamburgers. Thinking this odd, he decided to investigate and followed a young patron as he walked down the street, around the corner, and made a delivery into the open door of a limousine.
4. White Castle was the first fast food chain to sell 1 billion burgers.
5. The name was meant to counter the bad rap hamburgers had at the time.
Exposés like Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and commentary like Frederick J. Schlink's Eat, Drink and Be Wary portrayed hamburger beef as unsafe, if not downright poisonous. To give their burgers a pristine image, Ingram and Anderson combined two words that together conveyed purity and solidity: white and castle.
6. White Castle's name inspired lots of copycats.
Hoping to replicate White Castle’s success, rivals with names like White Palace, Royal Castle, and White Clock began springing up during the 1920s and 1930s. One company—the Milwaukee-based White Tower chain—even studied the exact measurements of White Castle restaurants and used them to erect its own Medieval-style buildings. So in 1929, White Castle sued. After a legal battle (involving a second lawsuit), White Tower forked over an $82,000 settlement and agreed to revamp its buildings with a fresh, art deco-themed look.
7. White CAstle's design was inspired by the Chicago Water Tower.
8. White Castle had side businesses making their own buildings and paper hats.
Ingram wanted his restaurants to be small, inexpensive, and quick to build and take down. So in 1934 he started his own subsidiary, Porcelain Steel Buildings (PSB), to make the lightweight porcelain-and-steel structures. During World War II, PSB did its part by manufacturing amphibious vehicles. The company also bought manufacturer Paperlynen in 1932 to make the paper hats White Castle employees wore—because why not? Realizing it had a profitable business on its hands, White Castle started taking orders from other food service establishments, and by 1964 they were selling more than 54 million caps annually.
9. Kansas is now bereft of White Castles.
Even though White Castle was founded in Wichita, the company doesn’t currently maintain any locations within the Sunflower State. (White Castle’s headquarters were relocated to Columbus, Ohio in 1934.) But to celebrate the brand’s 90th birthday, a temporary White Castle shop was set up in Wichita for one day only on May 19, 2011. Proceeds were donated to the Kansas Food Bank.
10. Today's White Castle slider is pretty much the same as the original recipe.
Anderson's original hamburger involved cooking a small beef patty over shredded onions, then sliding it onto a bun instead of between slices of bread. About 100 years later, not much has changed.
11. White Castle has been putting holes in their burger patties since 1954.
In 1954, a White Castle employee named Earl Howell—who worked at the company's Cincinnati location—suggested that the now-iconic patties would cook faster if they were punctured with a series of little holes. He was really onto something. Today, all White Castle hamburgers are prepared in this fashion, with five holes apiece. “We actually own the patent on the machine that makes the five holes,” White Castle vice president Jamie Richardson said in a 2017 interview with Thrillist. “It’s called a Meat Horn.”
12. White Castle made flipping burgers a desirable job.
Fast food wages today are so low they've spurred a national movement, but back in the day, flipping burgers at White Castle was a coveted job. Ingram paid employees between $18 and $30 a week, which was quite a lot in those days—especially for restaurant work—and offered paid sick days, pension plans, and regular opportunities for promotion.
13. Billy Ingram had exacting standards for his workers.
White Castle employees, each of whom underwent a two-week unpaid apprenticeship, were expected to wear clean white clothes, keep their hair short, and be unfailingly courteous to customers. They also (at least in the company's earliest days) had to be men between the ages of 18 and 24.
14. Cheeseburgers didn’t appear on White Castle's menu until 1961.
According to the company’s official website: “Forty-one years after opening our doors, we [took] a calculated risk and added our first new menu item: the cheeseburger!”
15. The company put out a newsletter called the Hot Hamburger.
It included jokes, short stories, and sales advice—like how to convince customers a slice of pie is just what they need after gorging themselves on hamburgers.
16. When White Castle ran its first newspaper coupons, it didn’t anticipate their wild success.
Taking a cue from grocery store marketing strategies, Billy Ingram paid to have coupons for discounted burgers published in major newspapers on June 3, 1933. “At first, the coupon campaign may have been too successful,” Hogan wrote in Selling ‘em By the Sack. “The rush was so intense at some Castles that they ran out of food in just an hour, sending their local supply houses into a frenzied effort to keep pace.”
17. Billy Ingram funded "scientific" research to prove the nutritional value of White Castle's burgers.
Intent on proving that his burgers were not just safe to eat but healthy, too, Ingram funded some rather dubious studies. The best one involved a University of Minnesota med student eating nothing but White Castle burgers for 13 weeks straight. He remained healthy in body, if not in spirit.
18. White Castle had a program that delivered frozen burgers anywhere in the U.S. within 24 hours.
If you had a craving in the mid-'80s and no White Castle nearby, you could call a toll-free number and get frozen sliders delivered to your doorstep. The "Hamburgers to Fly" program was such a success for the company that it paved the way for its line of frozen foods.
19. Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle star Kal Penn is a vegetarian.
The 2004 buddy comedy Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle boosted sales of White Castle's sliders, but co-star Kal Penn never actually ate one due to his vegetarian diet. (Crew members created meatless substitutes instead.)
20. One million sliders were given away to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle.
On July 30 and 31, 2019, Cravers who used the Uber Eats promo code “1MILLIONSLIDERS” were eligible to receive a free 10-stack slider at White Castle restaurants. (Although modest fees were charged on orders under $10.) “In 2004, we learned of a daring and arduous trip that two fans took to fulfill their Cravings,” White Castle CEO Lisa Ingram said in a press release. “We’re happy to partner with Uber Eats to take our delivery capabilities to an entirely new level and make sure we’re meeting customer needs where and when they arise.”
21. White Castle has inspired musicians.
Several songs by the Beastie Boys reference White Castle (and include helpful information, like "White Castle fries only come in one size"). There’s also "White Castle Blues" by '80s band The Smithereens.
22. White Castle has a Craver Hall Of Fame.
To honor its most devoted diners, White Castle established its hall of fame in 2001. More recent inductees include an Army soldier who took 50 sliders all the way to Germany, and a couple who collectively lost 200 pounds eating sliders. Alice Cooper is in there, too; according to White Castle, Cooper became a fan during his childhood in Detroit, and "The Crave stayed with him throughout his career and he based tour dates and concerts around the locations of White Castle restaurants."
23. In 2017, Stan Lee became an honorary inductee to the Craver Hall Of Fame.
Stan Lee, the longtime leader of Marvel Comics, had a proud history with sliders. “Growing up in Washington Heights and the Bronx, I loved White Castle,” Lee said in 2017. “The infamous slider was a favorite then, just as it remains today over 95 years later! I am grateful to White Castle for recognizing my lifelong Cravings and am honored to join past and future Craver Hall of Fame inductees!”
24. White Castle gets romantic for Valentine's Day.
Nothing says love like a shared stack of sliders, which is what makes White Castle a popular Valentine's Day destination. Locations take reservations weeks in advance and offer table service. In 2015, more than 35,000 customers made it a date.
25. More than 75 couples have gotten married at White Castle restaurants.
No punches were pulled in 2018 when lovebirds Adam Mandel and Whitney Wicker won a nationwide White Castle Wedding contest. Yes, really. Along with thousands of other couples, they submitted an application explaining why they deserved the grand prize: The right to stage their wedding rehearsal, ceremony, and reception at a White Castle restaurant in Las Vegas. A five-day Belgian honeymoon was also included. So was a slider-shaped cake and bouquets decorated with takeout boxes. Isn't it romantic?
26. There's a stuffing recipe that uses chopped-up White Castle sliders.
Thanksgiving will never be the same.
27. They make candles that smell like sliders.
Fill your house with that steam-grilled-beef-atop-a-bed-of-onions aroma.
28. White Castle operates “Crave Mobiles.”
Despite having nearly 400 locations, White Castle only operates in about a dozen states. To feed the crave for those who live in Castle-less areas, the company dispatches mobile restaurants called Crave Mobiles. One 2015 stop in Orlando saw more than 10,000 sliders sold.
29. It’s a popular spot for late-night crowds.
Data collected by the Foursquare app in 2017 showed that 21.5 percent of the foot traffic at White Castle locations happened between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.. According to Foursquare’s report, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Burger King, and McDonald’s receive far fewer customers (proportionately-speaking) during this period.
30. White Castle's CEO works behind the counter from time to time.
According to an interview with Columbus CEO, Lisa Ingram—White Castle's current CEO and great-granddaughter of Billy Ingram—will occasionally sling burgers at a restaurant near the company's Columbus, Ohio headquarters. Multiple fourth- and fifth-generation Ingrams still work in the family business.
31. White Castle's Las Vegas opening was a madhouse.
When a White Castle opened on the Las Vegas strip in January 2015, demand was so high that the location ran out of food and had to close for two hours to restock. Which shouldn't come as a surprise, considering the next closest Castle was 1500 miles away, in Missouri. The crave truly is a powerful thing.
32. Arizona’s first-ever White Castle restaurant opened in October 2019.
Located just outside Scottsdale, the eatery launched on October 23, 2019. Enthusiastic Cravers camped outside the building to attend the grand opening ceremony. The restaurant, which is open 24 hours a day, attracted such an enormous crowd on its opening day that they had to shut down for a few hours … because they ran out of burgers.
33. Vegetarians can order plant-based sliders.
Unveiled in 2018, the meat-free “Impossible Slider” proved successful enough to join White Castle's core menu. To create this botanical delicacy, White Castle teamed up with Impossible Foods, a meat substitute company based in northern California.
34. Don Adams (a.k.a. Inspector Gadget) filmed a series of White Castle commercials.
Don Adams played the lovable, if doltish, secret agent Maxwell Smart on Get Smart, a sitcom devised by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. After the show ended its run in 1975, Adams voiced another goofball crime-fighter: TV’s Inspector Gadget. During the 1990s, Adams portrayed various characters in White Castle ads, including a talkative cowboy and a prop-touting spy.
35. You can get a duck meat slider at White Castle locations in China.
Dubbed the “Cherry Blossom Slider,” it’s one of the regionally distinct menu options at China’s new White Castle restaurants. (If you don’t like duck, try the Spicy Tofu Slider.)
36. Unlike its major competitors, White Castle doesn’t franchise.
Every White Castle restaurant is overseen directly by the company, without any help from local franchise owners. On the flip side, other well-known chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s are heavily reliant on franchising. So by industry standards, this business model is somewhat unusual. Nevertheless, customer loyalty—and those low, low menu prices—keeps the brand afloat. “We do get stories about customers traveling an hour, two hours, even overnight to get to our product because it’s so unique. And you can’t find it anywhere else,” Lisa Ingram said.
37. NFL veteran Anthony “Spice” Adams announced his retirement in a YouTube video—which ended with a White Castle run.
Anthony Adams was drafted in 2003 spent a combined nine seasons as a defensive tackle for the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears. When he decided to hang up the cleats, he let the world know by throwing on a suit and filming himself enjoying some fries at a nearby White Castle (with his daughters in tow).
38. There’s a White Castle scene in Saturday Night Fever.
Before Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, we had John Travolta’s memorable performance as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever. During the disco-infused classic, Manero and his pals wolf down some sliders at a White Castle in Bayside, Brooklyn. (Manero gets reprimanded for talking with his mouth full—a buddy asks him, “Don’t you never chew?”) Unfortunately, this particular White Castle location has been closed.
39. In a viral April Fools’ Day prank, White Castle claimed it was making a hamburger-based protein powder.
“Do you dream of pulsating pectoral muscles? Do you wanna get swole? Good news, Jabroni!” So begins a faux video advertisement for a nonexistent supplement called “White Castle Whey Protein.” In a statement, the company claimed that this phony product—reported to contain the “protein of real White Castle sliders”—would hit the market on April 1, 2018.
40. A pair of New Jersey EMTs once ignored a hospital call to satisfy their cravings.
Two emergency medical technicians affiliated with Newark’s University Hospital resigned after they didn’t react quickly enough to a 2016 dispatch call—because the duo was getting food at a local White Castle. “I ordered my food before the f***ing call came in,” said the driver in a recorded conversation. “What do you think, I just throw it in the air and run off? No.”
41. The White Castle slider has been named “the most influential burger of all time.”
That’s right, folks. In 2014, TIME magazine correspondent Sarah Begley ranked the 17 most historically significant burgers ever conceived. The traditional White Castle slider beat out the Burger King Whopper, the In-N-Out Burger, and other worthy opponents for the top spot.
An earlier version of this story in 2016.