White Castle marks 90th anniversary with one-day return to Wichita

The first White Castle restaurant opened in Wichita, Kan., in 1921. The little burgers were 5 cents apiece.
The first White Castle restaurant opened in Wichita, Kan., in 1921. The little burgers were 5 cents apiece. MCT

Wichita's prodigal fast food chain is coming back home, but only for a day. White Castle executives and family members of the chain's founders are making a pilgrimage May 19 to Wichita, where he first White Castle was founded 90 years ago.

There will be a birthday celebration that afternoon offering Wichitans the chance to once again buy White Castle burgers.

"Home is where the heart is," said White Castle System Inc. vice president Jamie Richardson. "Knowing that we started in Wichita and that it is where it all began, we thought would be a great chance to bring some of the family members together."

From 4 to 6 p.m., Wichitans can buy the burgers the price of two for 90 cents. Grills will be set up in the Dillons grocery store parking lot at 7707 E. Central, near Rock Road.

All proceeds from the event will go to the Kansas Food Bank.

While in town, White Castle officials also plan to present a plaque to the Sunflower Bank branch at 201 N. Main, the site of the first White Castle restaurant, which was built in 1921.

The May 19 event also will coincide with another 90th anniversary celebration for a corporation with strong Kansas roots — Dillons, Richardson said.

Although Dillon Cos. was officially founded in 1921, the organization's roots date back even earlier when John S. Dillon opened grocery stores in Hutchinson and Sterling.

Richardson said White Castle officials thought it was a good pairing to work with Dillons on the 90th anniversary project, in part because White Castle burgers are now sold in frozen food sections of grocery stores throughout the nation, including Dillons.

In 1921, two Wichitans — Walt Anderson and Edgar Waldo "Billy" Ingram — created White Castle. They chose the name because "White" signified cleanliness and purity; "Castle" signified strength, stability and permanence.

Their hamburger buildings were inspired by the design of Chicago's Water Tower — in the shape of a castle.

Anderson had been making hamburgers in Wichita since 1916. He created what many believe were the beginnings of hamburgers as we now know them.

Anderson's hamburgers were made by pressing ground meat into a patty; punching holes to let the aroma come through; placing the patty on a grill with onions and pickles on top, and then serving the burgers on a dinner-roll-sized bun to absorb the juice.

Through the years, the burgers have affectionately have been nicknamed by their fans as "gut bombs," "Whiteys," "sliders," "roachburgers," "Castles," "Whitey one-bites" and "belly busters."

In 1933, White Castle moved its headquarters from Wichita to Columbus, Ohio.

Today there are no White Castles in Kansas. The last one in Wichita closed in 1938.

The White Castle corporation is considered America's first fast-food hamburger chain. It owns and operates more than 400 restaurants in 11 states.

The May 19 event will be filmed by a crew producing a documentary about the fast-food chain titled, "White Castle — What America Craves." The film is slated for release in spring of 2012.

For more information on the film, visit www.whitecastlefilm.com.