Meet the American who made us flip for fast food: White Castle founder Billy Ingram

Wichita businessman turned local taste for cheap, delicious sliders into a food phenomenon

Americans have an insatiable appetite for fast food. Credit — or blame, as the case may be — entrepreneur Billy Ingram. The Colorado native founded the world’s first burger chain , White Castle, in Wichita, Kansas, in 1921. He is widely considered the father of fast food — recognized as its creator by industry media as early as 1957, before most modern fast-food brands were even born.

The United States today has about 190,000 fast-food eateries, according to restaurant industry sources. But only one was the first. “White Castle’s rise to cult status was nothing short of miraculous,” raved burger enthusiast and “Howard Stern Show” radio personality Jon Hein in the debut episode of TV program “Fast Food Mania.”

Ingram pioneered many of the processes, equipment and even marketing techniques that make fast food possible today: delicious, savory and mouth-filling flavors served quickly and affordably with the same taste profile offered by many different locations.

His original slider hamburger cost just 5 cents 101 years ago. A White Castle burger costs about 89 cents today — a delicious steal sold by the sackload. “It’s just really simple, delicious comfort food”

“The griddled onions, the way the burger and the bun are kind of steamed — you never get a dry White Castle bun. I love them.”

Chestnut and fellow competitive eater Matt Stonie recently savaged an order of 100 White Castle sliders in Las Vegas .

Not for a competition. Just for fun. “It was a long, late night in Vegas,” he noted. Fast-food founder Ingram inspired a cult phenomenon, in addition to an industry.

White Castle created the Cravers Hall of Fame in 2001 to honor those who have displayed “a lifetime of devotion going to extreme lengths to satisfy cravings,” company spokesman Jamie Richardson

Members include rock ‘n roll icon Alice Cooper, “Man vs. Food” host Adam Richman and the late titan of the comic-book genre, Stan Lee.

“I am not only in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but I’m also in the White Castle Cravers Hall of Fame,” Cooper boasted to Fox News Digital.

“Yep. They made me a throne out of White Castle Burgers. I ate it,” he said.

Partnership reshaped food consumption

Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram was born in humble circumstances in Leadville, Colorado, in 1880.

He worked briefly as a reporter covering the livestock industry for the Omaha (Neb.) Bee around 1900, before moving to Wichita to pursue his career in real estate and insurance.

There, he became active in the Rotary Club and met local businessman and burger-shop owner Walter Anderson.

The innovative fry cook held the key to the future of American food.

“In 1916, Anderson developed a different method of preparing a hamburger sandwich by flattening a ball of ground meat and cooking it with onions on a hot griddle for a short period of time,” writes the Kansas Business Hall of fame.

“Prior to Anderson’s method of preparation, the hamburger sandwich consisted of a thick ball of ground meat cooked slowly on a griddle for an indefinite period of time,” noted the same source.

“His hamburger sandwich proved popular enough for Anderson to open three hamburger stands in Wichita between 1916 and 1920.” Ingram loved the concept. He invested $700, they formed White Castle — and they opened their first eatery together in 1921 on Main Street in Wichita. It’s known in company lore as White Castle No. 4 — the first shop the partners opened together. The tiny burgers, about 2 inches square, are still sizzled in onions today, the top bun steaming on top of the patty — largely unchanged from the way Anderson cooked them years before.