A CENTURY OF SLIDERS: White Castle turns 100 and will celebrate milestone with new menu items, more

White Castle team members in uniform.
White Castle team members in uniform. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: White Castle

Credit: White Castle

Columbus-based White Castle officially turned 100 years old this week. Though many have assumed that one of the larger fast-food chains, such as McDonald’s, may have been the first fast-food restaurant, that distinction, according to several credible accounts, actually belongs to White Castle. Since 1921, the chain, which now operates more than 360 locations around the country, has been serving up its famous sliders.

White Castle was founded by Walt Anderson and Billy Ingram in Wichita, Kansas in 1921. Prior to founding White Castle, Anderson operated hamburger stands in and around Wichita. Anderson met Ingram, an insurance salesperson who saw potential —and profitability — in Anderson’s famous hamburgers.

At the time, fast-food restaurants as we know them did not exist. In the early 20th century, dining at a restaurant was often considered a luxury only for the wealthy. Additionally, Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, “The Jungle,” made many question the cleanliness of the food industry as a whole. Though White Castle faced an uphill battle from the beginning, it managed to win over the public with food for the everyman in a sparkling clean environment.

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One of the first White Castles in Wichita, Kansas.
One of the first White Castles in Wichita, Kansas. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: White Castle

Credit: White Castle

“In the beginning, it was Billy’s idea that everybody deserved a night out — that everybody deserved to be able to get hot and tasty food,” said Jamie Richardson, vice president of marketing and public relations at White Castle. “From early on, we were open 24 hours a day. The idea was to be there for those shift workers so they can have their snack at the end of the day — even if that’s after the third shift. Since the beginning, it has been all about affordability and convenience.”

To combat the perceived issue of cleanliness, the counters in each restaurant were stainless steel, and they were meticulously cleaned by staff members. In the early days of the fast-food restaurant, Ingram would visit each location to ensure that the counters were gleaming.

The counter inside one of the first White Castles.
The counter inside one of the first White Castles. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: White Castle

Credit: White Castle

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“Billy was famous for visiting every restaurant at least once a year, and, according to legend, everything would look perfect but then he would call the general manager over and point out a little bit of dirt forming on a single screw in the counter,” Richardson said.

Apart from inventing the hamburger bun, which one of White Castle’s founders apparently did five years before White Castle was founded, the chain is also credited with inventing the concept of restaurant carryout. In 1927, Ingram coined the tagline “Buy ‘em by the sack,” encouraging customers to bring a few of the restaurant’s famous sliders home to their families.

Billy Ingram moved White Castle to Columbus in 1934 after buying out Anderson’s share of the business, and the chain enjoyed a growth spurt shortly thereafter.

Though the hamburger was invented before White Castle opened its doors (the inventor of this American delicacy is still widely debated), the fast-food chain was the first to popularize it. In 1961, White Castle became the first fast-food restaurant to sell one billion hamburgers.

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Now, White Castle restaurants can be found all over the country, and its sliders can be found in the freezer aisle of your local supermarket. Four generations of Ingrams have owned the fast-food chain since 1921. Since 2016, Lisa Ingram has served as the family leader and CEO of the company.

“Running White Castle has been an amazing experience for the extended Ingram family, and we can’t wait to see what the next 100 years have in store,” Lisa Ingram said in a release. “But for now, we’re excited to savor this extraordinary time in our company’s history.”

White Castle is celebrating its 100th anniversary with new uniform designs, employee scholarships, sweepstakes, augmented reality soft drink cups, new desserts and a virtual birthday celebration. The chain operates eight restaurants in the greater Miami Valley: in Trotwood, Springfield, Franklin, Middletown, Hamilton, Fairfield, South Lebanon and West Chester Twp.

In honor of its 100th birthday, the Ingram-White Castle Foundation will be awarding $100,000 in scholarships to team members and their dependents. Customers will also have a chance to win $100,000 worth of prizes included in the chain’s Time Machine Sweepstakes. Each week of the sweepstakes, customers can win prizes like having a booth named in their honor, having their name appear in lights on every White Castle’s exterior reader board in the country, receiving a personalized voicemail greeting from CEO Lisa Ingram, and, of course, receiving the grand prize of $100,000.

White Castle will also be honoring its 100-year collaboration with Coca-Cola by debuting augmented reality soft drink cups that come alive with sound and motion when viewed through a smartphone. The cups are designed by Columbus artist Bryan Moss and feature different time periods in White Castle’s history.

White Castle's 100th anniversary special product packaging.
White Castle's 100th anniversary special product packaging. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: White Castle

Credit: White Castle

Since the chain won’t be able to throw a proper party to celebrate its birthday, it will be hosting a virtual celebration on May 15 (which also happens to be National Slider Day) and serving cake and punch to customers all over the country. Customers can now sip on a Fanta Craver Party Punch at all locations, and will soon be able to indulge in a slice of birthday cake via the chain’s Birthday Cake on a Stick limited-time menu item, which will be available beginning on April 18. More details regarding the virtual birthday celebration will be released soon.

Employees will also be receiving brand new uniforms designed by renowned New York City design house TELFAR. In 2015, the founder of the design house, Telfar Clemens, made headlines when he threw a New York Fashion Week after-party inside of a White Castle in New York City.

Anniversary celebrations will also be taking place in the Miami Valley. This Spring, White Castle will be breaking ground on the expansion project of its frozen food manufacturing plant in Vandalia. The expanded facility will be twice the size of its existing 75,000-square-foot building, which will be renamed after Bill Ingram, the third-generation family leader who created the retail division of White Castle.

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