Fletcher Davis (1864-1941), also known as "Old Dave" or "Uncle Fletch" is the original inventor of the hamburger. He was a potter by trade, but also owned a small café. The hamburger first gained widespread exposure in the New York Tribune at the 1904 World's Fair in Saint Louis. It was reported as "the innovation of a food vendor on the pike" ("pike" meaning the midway.)

Mr. Davis' invention was launched to world fame from the "Old Dave's Hamburger Stand" on the midway at the World's fair, but he had been serving the unique sandwich at his Athens, Texas café lunch counter since the 1880's, when he moved there from Missouri. Situated at 115 Tyler Street on the north side of the courthouse square in Athens, the café served the sandwiches as the well-known patty, but on slices of homemade bread instead of the now-ubiquitous bun. Local legend says the citizens of Athens loved his sandwiches so much that they raised enough money to send Old Dave to the World's fair in 1904 to market it.

Davis was known as a good fellow and helper of the community. Verbal history states that he volunteered his help freely in Athens, among other things painting the center stripe in a new ten-mile section of road and tearing down the old county jail single-handedly. He worked as a turner in the local pottery works, was involved in the local baseball teams, both as player and umpire. He opened his café when business at the pottery house began to slow in the late 1800's.

The name "Hamburger" was apparently coined while Davis and his wife Ciddy were selling the sandwiches at the World's Fair. James A. Cockrell, editor of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat states that:

"In St. Louis I’ve heard from person, whose parents or grandparents came from the southern regions of Germany, say that northern Germans in the city of Hamburg were much given to eating ground meat, even in the distant past. Other Germans disapproved of the Hamburg ground meat freaks, especially the Hamburg types who liked raw ground meat. So the St. Louis Germans may have named the sandwich hamburger as a derisive gesture toward the barbaric, ground-meat gobblers in the city of Hamburg. It is certain that the people of Hamburg never got around to making a ground-meat sandwich. If they did it never caught on over there."
There have been competing claims to the invention of the hamburger by Fletcher Davis. In 1974 the New York Times ran a story in which it was claimed that a man named Louis Lassen invented the hamburger in 1900 in his New Haven, Connecticut café. The story was brought about by concerns that the café, "Louis Lunch", was about to be torn down to make room for a medical complex. The story did state that:
"a serious challenge to the title is a theory supported by the McDonald’s Corporation, the nationwide hamburger chain. McDonald’s historians have researched the problem and claim the inventor was an unknown food vendor at the St. Louis Fair in 1904."
Legend also states that the Tribune reporter that first broke the hamburger story also asked Davis about the fried potatoes served with tomato sauce that he served with the hamburgers. Mr Davis was said to have told the reporter he learned to cook them from a friend in Paris, Texas, but the confused reporter mistakenly thought he meant Paris, France. The story reported that the hamburger was served with "french-fried potatoes".

Whether the origin of the name for french fries is a legend tacked on to Fletcher Davis' story or not we may never know, but his status as the inventor of the modern-day hamberger is secure. His invention is honored each year in the Uncle Fletch's Hamburger Cook-off on the Athens courthouse square.

Fletcher Davis returned from the 1904 World's fair and resumed his job in the pottery house, but never reopened his café. When he returned, there were several cafés making the sandwich. For the remainder of his life, he cooked hamburgers at picnics and family events, but never again sold one. He died at age 77 and was buried in the Athens cemetary where his grave remains to this day.


Reference:
www.athenstx.org/History.htm
www.athenscc.org/fletch.html

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