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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

INVENTING THE HAMBURGER

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
When Hamburger University, the McDonald's training school and research group, went looking for the origin of the hamburger some years ago, they concluded that it was introduced at the 1904 St Louis World's Fair by an anonymous food vender.

But it wasnąt until the 1980s that it was discovered that the vendor was from East Texas.

The inventor was Fletcher Davis -- sometimes known as Old Dave -- who ran a small cafe on Athens' courthouse square in the 1880s. His early burger was described as a classic, greasy burger served on just-out-of-the-oven slices of bread and garnished with ground mustard mixed with mayonnaise, a big slice of onion, and sliced cucumber pickles.

The man responsible for unearthing Fletcher's culinary contribution, the late Frank Tolbert of the Dallas Morning News, worked for years on the hamburger story, assisted by Clint Murchison, Jr. of Dallas and Kindree Miller, Sr., an Athens potter and a nephew of Fletcher.

In his 1983 book, "Tolbert's Texas," the Dallas columnist said Murchison sent him a large photo of the l904 midway with "Old Dave's Hamburger Stand," marked by Murchison's grandfather, John Murchison of Athens. The people of Athens were reportedly so pleased with Fletcher's sandwich that they reportedly raised a pile of money and sent him to the World's Fair.

Fletcher was, by trade, a potter. He came to Athens from Webster City, Missouri, to join Miller's father in the pottery business. Although he was still in his twenties, he was somehow tagged with the nickname, Old Dave. He apparently got into the burger business by cooking at pottery shows. Miller said he was "a natural and imaginative cook."

When he came home from the St. Louis exposition, Fletcher gave up his cafe on the Athens square and went back to firing pots in the Miller pottery But, before returning to Texas, Fletcher also had something to do with the origin of another fast-food delicacy.

He was interviewed by a New York Tribune reporter who was intrigued by the hamburger and the fried potatoes he served with the sandwich at the World's Fair. Fletcher told the reporter the sandwich was his idea, but said he learned to cook the potatoes that way from a friend in Paris, Texas. Apparently the reporter thought Fletcher meant Paris, France, and reported that the hamburger was served with wonderful "french-fried potatoes."

The name stuck, and history has forever given the wrong Paris the credit for french fries.


All Things Historical
June 16-22, 2002
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(Bob Bowman is author of Pioneers, Poke Sallet and Politics with Archie McDonald. It is available through the East Texas Historical Association, Nacogdoches)
 
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