During World War I, at the beginning of the 20th century, Americans renamed hamburgers to the “liberty sandwiches” due to the German etymology of the word “hamburger.” The meal appearance dates back to the 1840s when there was an impressive amount of German immigrants in the United States due to political reasons. As high-quality beef was then imported from Hamburg, such naming of the meal was quite predictable.
Hamburger has been fully integrated into traditional American cuisine over the past century. However, few people know how this famous meal appeared on American land in the first place. In the middle of the 19th century, when Germany was suffering from political revolutions, many Germans decided to immigrate to other states to stay safe.
Many of them decided to move to the US, and with the growing number of Germans in the country, their culture started to spread all over the state. At the time, Germany was mostly known because of beer culture and high-quality meat. The leading exporter of beef was the city of Hamburg, which had been known as a trading center for a long time.
Hence, German-Americans, when already settled in a new country, started to procure beef, and make “Hamburg-style” chopped steaks. At the end of the 19th century, people began to serve what is now called an original hamburger – beef patty on a bun. Later, the meal was renamed after New York doctor James H. Salisbury, who stated that beef steaks could be healthy.
Over the years, the popularity of the burger spread quite rapidly until the beginning of World War I. At the time, everything that had the slightest connection with Germans and their culture was automatically interpreted by society as inappropriate.
German-Americans, who were adequately perceived by Americans, lost their authority during World War I. Hence, sandwiches named after German city required a new naming as they were gaining popularity among the Americans. From then on, soldiers called hamburgers “liberty sandwiches” to avoid any connection with its German roots.
Such a modification existed for a relatively brief time and was not regulated by any law. The intention of calling hamburgers “liberty sandwiches” was mostly highly individual, and it was not supported by the entire food industry. Moreover, it was not exclusively a hamburger that was intended to get a new name. For example, French fries were also called “liberty fries” for a quite short period.
The major reasons why such namings did not last long in the food culture are popularity and name appropriateness. First of all, people by that time had already got used to calling hamburgers by their original title, and their popularity at the beginning of the 20th century was unimaginable.
Secondly, the names such as Hamburg-like steak, or French fries were connected only to the meal’s origin without any other connotations. The word “liberty,” on the contrary, has a strong subtext, relevant for a certain period only. The original title became even more popular after the appearance of McDonald’s fast-food chain in the middle of the 20th century.
Nowadays, hamburgers remain one of the most popular meals in the world, and it is strongly associated with American culture. Hence, a relatively short but quite intensive story of hamburger integrated its original naming in world history despite all the attempts to label it differently.