In 1938, the NY Times Wrote About a Weird New Food: The Cheeseburger

Apparently, cheese on meat needed some explanation

the food passionates/Corbis

Today, it's easy to order a chunk of animal flesh seared with black stripes on the outside and still bloody on the inside, garnished with a bit of coagulated milk protein now melted by heat — a cheeseburger, if it must be labeled. But apparently, such a dish was just odd when it first came out.

At The New York Times, Mark Bulik looks back in the paper’s archives at the first mentions of a cheeseburger. A 1938 article puzzles over the "whimsy" of California eateries, which not only include buildings in the shape of windmills, lemons, oranges and shoes, but also serve strange foodstuffs. While hotdogs and hamburgers are already "American national dishes," variations like the "nutburger, cheeseburger, porkburger" and "turkeyburger" are "typical of California." Reporter Elizabeth Forman was probably shaking her head in disbelief as she wrote it.

Fully credible adoption of the cheeseburger took time. Bulik writes:

Nine years later, the newspaper was taking the phenomenon a bit more seriously, though it still admitted that the very notion seemed preposterous. “At first, the combination of beef with cheese and tomatoes, which sometimes are used, may seem bizarre,” The Times intoned on May 3, 1947. “If you reflect a bit, you’ll understand the combination is sound gastronomically."

The article includes a helpful picture as if to assure the reader that cheeseburgers and tomato accompaniment are indeed a thing.

Of course, as a paper of record, The Times makes an effort to cover and even predict societal trends. Though — as the satirical Twitter account "The Times is On It" points out, the effort can occasionally seem a little behind the trend’s peak. And when the topic includes a little bit of the famous New York City, Los Angeles rivalry, things can be amusing for both sides.


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