33 Things You Didn’t Know About White Castle

Slider Saga

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
White Castle Restaurant

Slider Saga

Devoted fans of White Castle, which has been slinging its miniature burgers for a century, know that the chain doesn't have all that many locations west of the Mississippi or south of Tennessee. What it does have is some interesting history, a huge cult following, and a stoner movie — "Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle" — that put it directly into the public consciousness. Here are some things you might not have known about this buzzy fast-food fixture.

Related: 20 Fast Food Restaurants, Then and Now

It Was the First Burger Chain
Win McNamee/Getty Images

It Was the First Burger Chain

In 1921, Edgar Waldo "Billy" Ingram, a former insurance agent, and J. Walter Anderson, who owned several burger stands, opened the first White Castle in Wichita, Kansas, for $700. Two years later, White Castle expanded to El Dorado, Kansas, and then Omaha, Nebraska. By the end of the decade, it had locations throughout the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic (including New York and New Jersey). It was years ahead of McDonald’s and other burger chains. A&W started in 1919, but as just a root beer stand.

 Related: Historic Fast-Food Restaurants Across America

It Has No Locations in Its Birthplace

There Aren't Any Locations in Its Birthplace

Yes, it was founded in Kansas and once had multiple locations there, but Kansans who want White Castle have to go to Columbia, Missouri. White Castle now has no locations in the state where it was born, and doesn't seem to have designs on opening there any time soon.

Related: Where to Find a Good, Cheap Burger In Every State

White Castle Advert
White Castle Advert by Steven Miller (CC BY)

One of the Founders Was a Burger Genius

Opening White Castle may be the least of Anderson's accomplishments. Anderson made the burger joint as we know it possible by inventing the grill used to cook the burgers — and plenty of people say he also invented the burger bun itself. 

For more fun trivia stories like this,
please sign up for our free newsletters.

White Castle Building No. 8
White Castle Building No. 8 by McGhiever (CC BY-SA)

The Founders Thought of Everything

Since there wasn't exactly a template for opening a fast-food chain in 1921, founders Irving and Anderson had to address every detail themselves, including forming companies to make prefabricated White Castle buildings that looked alike and another division dedicated to making the workers' little paper hats. What they built was the blueprint for fast-food success.

Related: 19 Spectacular Fast Food Restaurant Designs Around the World

White Castle drive thru menu November 2017
White Castle drive thru menu November 2017 by Paul Rosemeyer (CC BY-NC-ND)

Prices Have Increased Only Slightly Since First Opening

The tiny White Castle "slider" cost just 5 cents in 1921, which amounts to about 66 cents today. An original slider in Newark, New Jersey, will run you about 88 cents — though promotions put them in hungry customers' hands for about 50 cents each if bought in bulk.

White Castle: Super Sack
Toan H./Yelp

It Created the Fast Food Promotion

Those buy-in-bulk deals aren't exactly new. In the 1930s, with competition increasing, White Castle began putting coupons in newspapers that allowed customers to buy five hamburgers for just 5 cents each. Promotional items are now not only a staple of White Castle's business plan, but of the fast-food industry in general.

It's White for a Reason

The Restaurants Is White for a Reason

After author Upton Sinclair's book "The Jungle" exposed the horrific conditions of meat-industry facilities and the meat they produced, Americans weren't all that enamored of the hamburger. It was viewed as dirty, which led White Castle's founders to push a squeaky-clean image featuring restaurants of white porcelain and stainless steel. Food was cooked in full view of customers and fresh meat was delivered twice daily.

water tower
water tower by josh s jackson (CC BY-NC)

The Castle Design Was Inspired by a Real Building

White Castle founder Ingram notes that the original design of his buildings was inspired by Chicago's Water Tower, one of the few structures to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. White Castle has since rewarded the city by placing nearly 20 locations within its borders alone.

It Made Food Fast
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Restaurant's Innovative System Made Food Fast

White Castle's slider-size patties are cooked in large batches on top of diced onions in assembly-line fashion. A pickle is inserted at the end of the process, and hundreds of burgers come out at the same time. If you want to know where fast food got its "fast," White Castle's system is the answer.

It Doesn't Grill, It Steams
Win McNamee/Getty Images

White Castle Burgers Aren't Grilled, They're Steamed

That bed of onions has an important job: The steam from the grilled onions permeates the burgers and cooks them without exposing them to the grill directly. They can be steamed 30 at a time (the exact number of sliders in White Castle's suitcase-sized Crave Case) and get off the grill in very little time.

Fast Food Propaganda
Fast Food Propaganda by rudynorff (CC BY-SA)

The Burgers Were Once Considered 'Healthy'

White Castle co-founder Ingram brought in University of Minnesota Physiological Chemistry professor Jesse McClendon to conduct a study to help Americans get over their burger fears. For 13 weeks, McClendon fed Bernard Flesche, a med student at the university, just water and White Castle burgers. Flesche ate as many as 20 a day, and the study concluded that customers "could eat nothing but our sandwiches and water, and fully develop all physical and mental faculties." After Ingram ran ads suggesting as much, sales tripled over the following 10 years.

NJ - Jersey City: White Mana Diner
NJ - Jersey City: White Mana Diner by Wally Gobetz (CC BY-NC-ND)

There Have Been Plenty of Spinoffs

White Tower, White Clock, Royal Castle, Blue Castle, White Diamond, White Rose, or White Mana (or White Manna) — if you've run across any of these ancient slider slingers, you've run across what remains of White Castle's earliest competitors and doppelgangers. None have thrived like White Castle.

It Sold Hot Dogs

White Castle Once Sold Hot Dogs

World War II was as tough on White Castle economically as it was on everyone else. Beef rations limited White Castle's supply, which meant it had to turn to other products to get by. For a brief time, hot dogs and fried eggs were just as important as sliders and sustained the chain until the post-war burger boom.

Related: Famous Franks: 29 Best Hot Dog Stands Across America

It Pokes Holes in Its Burgers
Win McNamee/Getty Images

There's a Reason the Burgers Have Holes Poked in Them

Back in 1954, a White Castle employee in Cincinnati named Earl Howell left a note in the store's suggestion box saying putting holes in White Castle patties would help them cook faster. The holes helped steam permeate the patties, cooking them more evenly, distributing onion flavor more thoroughly, and eliminating the need for a flip. Howell now has a place in the Hall of Fame at White Castle headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.

It Was a Massive Success
Win McNamee/Getty Images

White Castle Outsold McDonald's in the Early Years ...

McDonald's once had signs boasting about the number of hamburgers it's sold over the years, but stopped counting in 1994. It had sold "just" 100 million by 1958, while three years later, White Castle announced it had sold 1 billion burgers, making it the first chain to do so

White Castle
White Castle by Bart Heird (CC BY-NC-ND)

... But the Chain Stunted Its Own Success

Ingram refused to franchise White Castle and wanted control over every location. He also dragged his feet on television advertising and even French fries as competitors such as McDonald's gained ground. He also refused to hire women or Black people, but relented eventually. When he died in 1966, White Castle was left with a small regional footprint as McDonald's began its march to world domination.

Related: Why McDonald's Fries Used to Taste Better

It Never Fled the City
Jazz F./Yelp

It Never Fled the City

White Castle's oldest locations are typically in the heart of cities, and that's by design. David Gerard Hogan, author of the definitive White Castle history "Sell 'Em By The Sack," notes that Ingram built White Castle by catering to the urban working class. When flight to the suburbs began in the '50s and '60s, White Castle stayed, and its low prices remained embraced by fellow city dwellers.

20110913 05 White Castle Poster
20110913 05 White Castle Poster by David Wilson (CC BY)

It Traveled Well

As early as the 1940s, White Castle fans would send their friends sliders packed on dry ice to let them know what they were missing. In 1981, however, the company launched its "Hamburgers to Fly" delivery program, sending frozen burgers off to hungry fans all over the U.S.

Related: Beloved Local Eats That Can Be Shipped to Your Doorstep

It Dominates Supermarket Freezers

White Castle Sliders Dominate Supermarket Freezers

In 1986, White Castle opened a grocery subsidiary and began pre-packaging sliders — bun and all — and selling them in supermarkets and grocery stores. By 2014, they were the top-selling frozen hamburger in the country. The burgers are made in the same plant as the restaurant's burger, and the only element missing is a pickle, which freezes and microwaves poorly.

Related: 15 Popular Restaurant Dishes You Can Find in the Freezer Section

It Ditches Fresh Onions For Frozen Burgers

Fresh Onions Are Ditched for Frozen Burgers

White Castle still uses onions to steam its burgers, but it doesn't just keep piles of fresh ones around when making pre-packaged frozen burgers. They are pre-sliced and diced and arrive at the plant dehydrated. They're rehydrated for placement onto the production line's grill.

White Castle
White Castle by Adam Kuban (CC BY-NC-ND)

Those Small Burgers Are Surprisingly Hefty

The White Castle slider has 6 grams of fat and packs in 140 calories. That gives roughly four sliders the fat and calorie content of a Big Mac. Keep that in mind when buying a 4,200-calorie Crave Case.

The Crave is a Powerful Thing
The Crave is a Powerful Thing by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC)

The Company Is Still Family-Owned

Ingram's passing in 1966 led to his son, E.W. Ingram Jr., taking over. E.W. Ingram III ended up taking over for his dad until 2013, when Lisa Ingram, Billy's great-granddaughter, took the reins.

Crowds line up for White Castle's CraveMobile
Crowds line up for White Castle's CraveMobile by Mr. Blue MauMau (CC BY)

It Operates Hugely Popular Food Trucks

In 2013, White Castle sent out trucks to cook up sliders for folks at sporting events and state fairs. That year, it prompted four-hour waits in then-White-Castle-free Las Vegas. In 2015, one such truck sold 10,000 sliders in six hours outside of Orlando, Florida theme park Fun Spot. There's definitely demand beyond the chain's 400 or so locations.

It Keeps Shutting Down Vegas
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

It Keeps Shutting Down Vegas

White Castle's four westernmost location are in Las Vegas, and they are beloved. When the first opened in 2015, it faced two-hour lines and had to close midday to restock. The closest White Castle to the Vegas locations is 1,500 miles away ... in Missouri.

Related: Local Burger Chains the Rest of the Country Needs

Beastie Boys; Maybe "Check your Head" tour at Club Citta Kawasaki, Japan
Beastie Boys; Maybe "Check your Head" tour at Club Citta Kawasaki, Japan by Masao Nakagami (CC BY-SA)

The Sliders Were a Beastie Boys Favorite

When their career was in its '80s infancy, the Beastie Boys weren't above just dropping into a Clifton, New Jersey, White Castle when they needed video filler or name dropping the chain as often as possible. Five songs on their 1986 album "Licensed to Ill" make references to the chain. The late Adam Yauch's vegan diet during his cancer treatment put some sobering distance between the band and the hamburger chain, even if White Castle itself still shows love for the Beasties.

Related: Fast Food Favorites of 20 Celebrities

"Weird Al" Yankovic
"Weird Al" Yankovic by Eric Neitzel (CC BY-NC-ND)

It Has Other Famous Fans

Punk band Bouncing Souls gave White Castle credit for sustaining them through tours in the song "Here We Go." Weird Al Yankovic lavishes White Castle burgers on his beloved in "Whatever You Like." The Dan Orr Project reimagined the Moody Blues in "Nights In White Castle." But it was New Jersey indie band The Smithereens that gave the chain the song that became its "Harold and Kumar" soundtrack anthem: "White Castle Blues."

It Could Have Had A ‘Harold And Kumar’ Partner

It Could Have Had a 'Harold And Kumar' Partner

Apparently, being associated with young, professional stoners from Hoboken isn't appealing to every fast-food brand. As it turns out, the creators of 2004's "Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle" also approached Krispy Kreme to take part in the Neil Patrick Harris-addled epic. The chain with the doughnut conveyor ramp declined.

It Did the Impossible
Jeff Schear via Getty Images

It Did the Impossible

In 2018, White Castle boasted of becoming the first fast-food chain to embrace the plant-based, bleeding Impossible Burger throughout its entire system. Granted, it costs more than double the price of an original slider, but that seems like a small price to stick to one's environmentally friendly and health conscious ideals.

White Castle Veggie Sliders
White Castle Veggie Sliders by Tony Webster (CC BY-SA)

It Wasn't New to Meatless Burgers

It began selling veggie patties at all of its locations back in 2014. Sure, it doesn't resemble beef or have the equivalent of blood streaming out of it, but the veggie slider was a positive step for a chain whose lone nod to vegetarians to that point was a menu of fried sides. Prior to that, the props team on the set of "Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle" had to create custom veggie patties for long-time vegetarian Kal Penn who played Kumar. 

Related: Hearty Meatless Meals Even Carnivores Will Devour

It Does Breakfast

It Does Breakfast

Belgian waffle sandwiches launched as a limited-time offer in 2014, but were so well-received that the sandwiches and the chain's original egg-and-cheese breakfast sliders helped the chain offer all-day breakfast back in 2015. If you want a chicken-and-waffle sandwich midday, it's yours.

White Castle love cube
White Castle

It (Usually) Offers a 'Romantic' Valentine's Day Dinner

Who needs four-star dining (or the big bill) when White Castle rolls out the red carpet for a Valentine's Day feast? Well, it does in normal times, at least. Sadly, last year's celebration, a tradition since 1991, was canceled thanks to the pandemic, but the chain typically pulls out all the stops for its die-hard fans, with reservations, table service, and romantic decor. There was an alternative: A $15 "Love Cube" meal box for two that included  sliders, drinks, and sides. 

White Castle Fry Robot
Miso Robotics

It Uses Robots to Make Its Fries

White Castle may be sticking to its traditional menu, but that doesn't mean it isn't open to recruiting robots to help in the kitchen — technology that probably holds even more appeal as labor shortages plague the fast-food industry. After testing fry-making machines for over a year, the chain will be adding 100 of them to restaurants. The bots fill fry baskets, cook the food, and then dump it off to be packaged and handed to the customer by human coworkers.

Related: The End of Soggy Fries: 10 Ways Science Is Changing Take Out

Puma White Castle Slider Sneaker

It Created Slider Shoes

Do you love White Castle so much that you want to show your devotion every day? The chain teamed up with Puma on a new slider-inspired sneaker to make that a reality for superfans. The orange, tan, and brown shoes featured a White Castle logo on the heel and tongue, a pattern inspired by grilled onions, and a small "5¢," the original slider price. They cost $120, which would otherwise buy you a whole lot of sliders, but are currently sold out. 

Related: The Best (and Worst) Fast-Food Clothing