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» The Cheeseburger Turns 75!!! (Maybe…)
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The Cheeseburger Turns 75!!! (Maybe…)

By • Mar 2nd, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog

Friday, March 5 should be honored as a momentous day for all of us in BurgerWorld.  It was on that date in 1935 that the glorious cheeseburger was born.  That is, if you believe one version of the story.

If you head to 2776 North Speer Boulevard in Denver today, you’ll find Key Bank.  In the mid-1930s, however, you would have been at the Humpty Dumpty Barrel Drive-In:

(Cool shot from the Rocky Mountain News, by the way.) Louis Ballast owned the place, and when things were slow, he would experiment in the kitchen, always on the lookout for the next big thing.  At one point in early 1935, he turned his attention to the humble hamburger, trying to find some new ways to jazz it up.  His tinkerings included peanut butter (hello, Elvis Burger!)  and even a melted Hershey’s chocolate bar.  Then he tried a single slice of American cheese, and the gods smiled upon him.  Customers immediately gobbled up the new offering.  (One wonders if people then gawked and rolled their eyes about this “extreme” burger the way we marvel at current cheebie trends like this or this.)

Ballast sensed that he had a winner on his hands, so on March 5, 1935, he showed up at the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.  There, he filed an Application and Affidavit for Registration of a Food Trademark.  Louis Ballast, a high school dropout, had just officially trademarked the word “Cheeseburger.”

While the paperwork is still in the family’s possession, Ballast’s son says that his father never tried to enforce the trademark or exclusivity rights to the name as cheeseburgers (with a small “c”) became all the rage across the country.  “He didn’t know what the procedure was and he couldn’t follow up to keep other people from using the word,” said David Ballast, who himself worked at the Barrel as a teen.

The Humpty Dumpty Barrel Drive-In stayed in business until 1974, a “Home of the Original Cheeseburger” sign hanging proudly on display right up until the end.  The place reportedly became a topless club and then burned to the ground in a 1976 fire.  Now it’s a bank, the only clue as to the site’s unique place in American culinary history being a modest stone marker in the parking lot:

Other now-defunct joints in Pasadena, L.A., and Louisville, Kentucky, all have fascinating, nearly-impossible-to-verify tales that position them as the true Ground Zero of Cheeseburger History.  These legends have the fateful moment occurring anywhere from 1928 to 1934, well before Ballast’s brainstorm.  Maybe it doesn’t even matter anymore.  The cheeseburger belongs to all of us now.

So eat a cheeseburger this Friday in celebration.  Whether it was really the first cheeseburger or just the first cheeseburger with official paperwork, do you really need an excuse to go grab one at your favorite burger bar?

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