cow butcher chart

Grinding Up Goods (and Other Parts): How the Meat Grinder Made the Hamburger

Author: Brittany B. Joachim

A New Device for the Modern Kitchen

meat grinder from the museum's artifact collection
meat grinder from the museum's artifact collection. A clasp helped hold it on the edge of a table

At the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, a new kitchen device appeared. This device promised to change the kitchen work of the housewife and allow an American staple to be more readily available, the meat grinder. Thanks to refrigeration and the rise of the grocery store, many of us do not grind meat ourselves. However, this simple invention helped shape American fast-food culture.

A Fast Food Staple is Born

Scraping and finely chopping raw beef proved a laborious task for both the housewife and butcher, but the meat grinder eased this task. With the meat grinder being a sturdy but easy to clean device, ground meats were more readily available. For the butcher, it expanded their offerings to the poor and working classes. Ground meat allowed butchers to use the less desirable parts of the animal and make a profit. Scraps of meat, organs, and fillers such as gristle, skin, and excess fat allowed them to produce a product that once ground together, made it difficult for the consumer to know what was in it. But as long as it tasted well and was affordable, it was profitable.

Ground beef also laid the foundation for hamburgers becoming a “fast food” option. First appearing as street food in the late nineteenth century, it has expanded by leaps and bounds. From fast food to “fine food” (depending on what was used to make it), the meat grinder helped make this happen. As commercialization and grocery stores grew, grinding your meat, or buying it from your local butcher, grew less common. While we are more likely to buy pre-ground beef for our hamburgers, the meat grinder made a difference in creating iconic American food.



Enterprise Manufacturing Company. “The Enterprise New Meat Chopper”. Fancy Work. Philadelphia, P.A., 1 February 1897. Accessed on 1 February 2022.

Multiple Classified Advertisements. “Hardware, Iron, Nails, Ect”. Mississippian. Jackson, M.S. Vol. 2 Issue 30: 9 November 1855. Gale Primary Sources, Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers. Accessed on 1 February 2022.  

Smith, Andrew F. Food and Drink in American History: A “Full Course” Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, C.A.: ABC-CLIO, October 2013.

Smith, Andrew F. Hamburger: A Global History. London, United Kingdom: Reaktion Books, Ltd. 2008.

patent image for a lunch wagon
patent image for the Night Lunch Wagon by C.H. Palmer, 1891. These served all kinds of quick foods for workers, including hamburgers.


Related Topics: