41 Crave-Worthy Facts About White Castle

Drew Angerer, Getty Images
Drew Angerer, Getty Images

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.

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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."

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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.

White Castle’s one billionth burger was purchased in 1961—two years before McDonald’s cleared the same benchmark.

5. The name was meant to counter the bad rap hamburgers had at the time.

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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.


The Windy City landmark, which was one of the few buildings that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, was a model [PDF] for White Castle's turret-and-tower design.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

The History Behind 10 Thanksgiving Dishes

VeselovaElena/iStock via Getty Images
VeselovaElena/iStock via Getty Images

Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.

1. Turkey

A roasted turkey on a platter.

Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as … served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!

2. Stuffing

Pan of breaded stuffing.

Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.

3. Cranberries

Dish of cranberry sauce.

Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.

4. Mashed Potatoes

Bowl of mashed potatoes.

Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting president to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.

5. Gravy

Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.

Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to create a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!

6. Corn

Plate of corn.

Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.

7. Sweet Potatoes

Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.

In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.

8. Green Bean Casserole

Plate of green bean casserole.

Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you probably know was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at Campbells.com), contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.

9. Pumpkin Pie

Slice of pumpkin pie.

Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. Wine

Two glasses of wine.

Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

Why Do We Eat Cranberry Sauce on Thanksgiving?

MSPhotographic/iStock via Getty Images
MSPhotographic/iStock via Getty Images

While plenty of people eat turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie year-round, it seems like cranberry sauce almost exclusively exists in the Thanksgiving universe. Although we don’t know for sure whether it was eaten at the very first Thanksgiving, the jiggly, gelatinous side dish does have deep roots in the history of America’s fruited plains.

According to Insider, cranberries are one of only three commercially grown fruits native to the United States, and the Wampanoag tribe had been using them for food, dye, and medicine long before feasting with the Pilgrims in 1621. If there were cranberries at the party, they probably didn’t taste much like the sweetened sauce we’re (circumstantially) fond of today; at that point, the settlers hadn’t yet succeeded in growing sugar cane in the New World.

But a little more than 50 years later, according to a 1672 account cited by The Washington Post, the new Americans and Native Americans had both started to enjoy cranberries much like we do at Thanksgiving dinner: “Indians and English use it much, boyling them with Sugar for a Sauce to eat with their Meat.”

In 1796, Amelia Simmons—author of American Cookery, the first-ever American cookbook—took it one step further by recommending that roast turkey be served with cranberry sauce. Considering that the Library of Congress included the book on its list of “Books That Shaped America,” it’s possible that Simmons’s suggestion reverberated through kitchens across the nation, and the tradition gained momentum from there. She does mention pickled mangoes as an alternate side dish for turkey, but the then-Indian import was likely less common than the locally-grown cranberry.

Then, in the early 1800s, Ocean Spray revolutionized the labor-intensive process of hand-picking cranberries from vines with what’s called a wet harvest. Basically, farmers flood the bogs where cranberries grow, and then they wade into the water to collect the floating berries en masse.

farmer wet-harvesting cranberries
A farmer gathering cranberries during a wet harvest.
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This was a more efficient technique, but a mass harvest meant that more cranberries got damaged. So in 1912, Ocean Spray began crushing them into canned, jellied cranberry sauce—maximizing the yield and making it easier than ever for every home in America to slice up a cylinder of solid, sugary, berry goodness.

Explore the stories behind your other favorite (or least favorite) Thanksgiving foods here.

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