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Ground beef: from ancient delicacy to modern staple

While ancient Europeans often ate minced or chopped beef, ground beef as we know it today is primarily an American invention that has since fueled appetites worldwide. Explore the history of ground beef and discover how something as simple as a patty on a roll could turn a niche protein into an international phenomenon.

  • 1200s

    Minced/chopped beef and beef tartare are consumed

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  • early 1500s

    Spanish explorers introduce beef cattle to North America

  • 1662

    William Pynchon becomes the first commercial meat packer in America

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  • 1818

    First major packing center is established in Cincinnati, OH

  • 1834

    First printed menu reference in the U.S. of the Hamburg steak at New York's Delmonico Restaurant

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  • 1855

    Swift and Company is formed; is now a wholly owned subsidiary of JBS S.A.

    Image Credit: The Brent C. Dickerson archive; used by permission.

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  • 1865

    Union Stock Yard and Transit Company is developed in Chicago, IL, becoming the center of the American meatpacking industry for decades

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  • 1867

    Armour and Company, one of the first large American meatpacking companies and first to use a plant assembly line, is founded in Chicago, IL

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  • 1870s

    Technological advancements, such as refrigerated rail cars and electricity make year-round business possible for the meat packing industry

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  • 1885

    Burger on a bun introduced at the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, NY

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  • 1887

    Cudahy Packing Company is established as the Armour-Cudahy Packing Company; by 1922 they are one of the largest packing houses in the U.S. with 8 facilities and 97 distribution centers

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  • 1890

    President Benjamin Harrison signs the first law requiring inspection of meat products

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  • 1897

    Salisbury steak, considered a forerunner of what is now known as the hamburger, is first noted in print

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  • 1906

    Federal Meat Inspection Act passed, representing one of the first U.S. laws to set federal food processing standards

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  • 1908

    Chico Ice & Cold Storage Co. becomes one of the first places in the U.S. for farmers to store fresh meat

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  • 1912

    Hamburger patty is served on a yeast roll and the term "hamburger" becomes a common reference

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  • 1916

    Thomas Wilson establishes Wilson & Co., which soon becomes one of the largest meat providers in the U.S.

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  • 1921

    White Castle, considered the first hamburger stand, opens in Wichita, KS

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  • 1922

    Institute of American Meat Packers (IAMP) launches new scientific research and industry education including a consumer meat promotion

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  • 1936

    Excel Packing Company established in Chicago, IL

  • 1940

    McDonald's starts as a barbeque restaurant in San Bernardino, CA

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  • 1941

    Excel Packing Company moves to Wichita, KS

  • 1950s

    An improved interstate highway system, refrigerated truck transport and cropland irrigation gives plants the opportunity to move to more affordable rural areas closer to the supply source

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  • 1950s

    A concentration of large-scale commercial feedlot operations first appears in California, then rapidly expands to other areas

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  • 1953

    Insta-Burger King (later re-named Burger King) begins operations in Jacksonville, FL

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  • 1954

    Beef cows (25 million head) outnumber milk cows (24 million head) for the first time in U.S. history

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  • 1960s

    Construction of large, efficient plants is the outcome of major innovations in cattle harvesting

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  • 1961

    IBP is formed in Denison, IA

  • 1966

    Missouri Beef Packers is formed in Rockport, MO

  • 1967

    Wholesome Meat Act of 1967 requires state inspection programs "equal to" that of the federal government, which are administered by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture

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  • 1967

    McDonald's Big Mac is invented

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    Image Credit: Simon Miller via photopin cc

  • 1969

    Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers opens in Columbus, OH

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    Image Credit: wsj.net

  • 1970

    Excel Packing Company changes name to Kansas Beef Industries

  • 1974

    Kansas Beef Industries and Missouri Beef Packers merge to form MBPXL Corporation. Kansas Beef Industries operations included Excel Packing, Kansas Packing and the 29th street plant, in Wichita, KS, and KBI in Philadelphia, PA; Missouri Beef facilities located in Rockport, MO, Friona, TX, Plainview, TX and Boise, ID

  • 1975

    Cargill purchases feedlots in Dalhart, TX and Leoti, KS

  • 1979

    Cargill acquires MBPXL in Wichita, KS

  • 1980s

    Processing facilities constructed in Dodge City, KS and High River, AB, Canada; processing facilities acquired in Ft. Morgan, CO and Schuyler, NE; feedlots purchased in Bovina, TX and Lockney, TX

  • 1982

    MBPXL is renamed Excel Corporation in Wichita, KS

  • 1993

    Public demands safer ground beef processes following a large outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7

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  • 1993

    Cargill acquires Brampton, Ontario facility in Canada

  • 1993

    USDA approves the patented technology used to create Finely Textured Beef (FTB)

  • 1996/1997

    Excel completes installation of thermal (steam) pasteurization in its seven U.S. and Canadian beef plants, greatly reducing the risk of pathogens like E. Coli O157:H7

  • 1998

    Cargill builds Newnan, GA facility

  • 2000s

    Cargill constructs Hazelton, PA and Chambly, QU, Canada facilities; acquires processing facilities in Butler, WI, Milwaukee, WI, Fresno, CA, Wyalusing, PA as well as Guelph, ON and Watson, ON, Canada; and purchases feedlot in Eckley, CO

  • 2002

    Cargill develops technology to remove debris and thoroughly cleanse cattle hides as they move through the plant

  • 2004

    Excel is renamed Cargill Meat Solutions and headquartered in Wichita, KS

  • 2007

    Ground beef is present in nearly 60 percent of all in-home beef servings

  • 2008

    Cargill builds ground beef facility in Fresno, CA

  • 2009

    Cargill acquires facility in Columbus, NE

  • 2010

    Cargill begins operations in Calgary, Alberta, Canada

  • 2011

    Cargill converts Marshall, MO pork harvest facility to both beef and pork production

  • 2012

    Controversy surrounding Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) rocks the industry after a series of conflicting and confusing media reports

  • 2012

    Ft. Worth, TX ground beef processing facility is acquired

  • pre-1700s
  • early-1800s
  • late-1800s
  • early-1900s
  • mid-1900s
  • late-1900s
  • 2000s
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