Wednesday, February 1, 2012
White Castle Works With Women
Founded in Wichita, Kansas in 1921, White Castle revolutionized how Americans ate. Beginning with their first few stands in Wichita, Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram and his partner, Walter Anderson, started the American fast-food industry, introduced carry-out eating, and introduced the hamburger as America’s best-known food.
Prior to the White Castle’s antiseptic, scrubbed take on the little restaurant, ground meat was always suspect as “leftovers” pawned off at the butcher shop. The new franchise operators had to prove that hamburgers were healthy food and their places were not “joints.” Thus, the stainless-steel castle look.
Hygiene for employees was stressed and high-grade beef was ground in front of the customers. Anderson and Ingram purchased an airplane so they could make surprise visits in their establishments to check on the standards of cleanliness.
The chain continued to expand over many states and by 1929, they started in Columbus. When the Depression hit in the 1930’s White Castle was so well established that it did not affect them; the prices remained the same, and the restaurants were expanded from 100 to 130 in all, due to Ingram’s keen business sense.
He introduced Ella Louise Agniel in 1932 to be White Castle’s new corporate hostess, working under the pseudonym of Julia Joyce. Corporate hostesses were becoming common, the most famous being General Mills’ “Betty Crocker.” (Many people are surprised that there was no real “Betty Crocker.”) Julia Joyce was there to spread the word about White Castles to middle class women in company cities.
To that end, “Julia” criss-crossed the country, attending meetings of garden clubs and women’s groups with sacks of burgers, stressing their nutritional value and handing out menu booklets of how to combine them with other foods (besides french-fries) for a well-balanced meal.
One example of these stomach-churning dinner suggestions: “Cream of Lettuce Soup, Cheese Sticks, White Castle Hamburger Sandwiches, Fried Parsnips, Cherry Pie, Coffee.” Other suggestions had things like stewed rhubarb and the fore-runners of Jell-o. How tastes have changed!
“Julia” performed high-profile charity work, delivering hamburgers to orphanages, to underprivileged children and other community centers. She starred in family-oriented advertisements and she even handed out bridge-game scorecards.
White Castle had its own bakeries and paper product factories, which sold goods to other food producers, and owned a company called Porcelain Steel Buildings, which also built gas stations. Anderson sold out to Ingram in 1933 and in 1934 Ingram spent months studying which White Castle city he wanted to move his center of operations to. Ingram liked Columbus’ climate, business community, the Ohio State University, the active Rotary Club and Masons.
World War Two hit White Castle hard with food rationing. Male employees that were trustworthy were also hard to find, as all the able-bodied and like–minded counter men had gone to war. After many months, Ingram decided to try female workers, violating his own two decade long ban. White Castle managers condemned the idea, predicting a multitude of problems. The women proved them wrong and by the end of the war, the vast majority of White Castle workers were women. Collectively they were more dependable and productive than male workers.
After the war, the women went home to be wives and mothers and the men did not want the counter jobs, as they were being offered more high-paying jobs in factories or were studying under the GI bill. The new counter men were not dependable, and also Ingram had to raise his prices. The 1950’s and 1960’s were not good years for White Castle, due to the other fast-food places coming in with a vengeance. Columbus was the famous “try-out” city for new chains. But the 1970’s and the 1980’s proved that with family leadership, White Castle could re-invent itself into a strong Columbus-based industry once again.