Museum - Fast Food Exhibit
Learn about the birth of the fast food industry at the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka.
Kansas restaurants were among the earliest to find new ways of serving food to people on the move. Their new ideas soon affected people throughout the nation.
The history of fast food begins with changes in transportation. People began eating more meals away from home as planes, trains, and automobiles allowed them to travel faster and farther. Jobs in offices and factories required workers to eat lunch close to the workplace rather than at home.
Fred Harvey was the first to initiate a large-scale restaurant chain. He opened a successful lunchroom in Topeka's Santa Fe depot in 1876. Soon Harvey Houses and railroad dining services spread throughout the West. They were famous for quality ingredients, reasonable prices, immaculate dining rooms, and excellent waitresses.
White Castle, the first hamburger chain, opened in Wichita in 1921. It was the first to have a single building style and standard operations for all its restaurants. Even the appearance of employees was regulated from head to toe.
Another Kansas industry that had a significant impact on the restaurant business was Valentine Manufacturing Company of Wichita, which manufactured prefabricated diner buildings and distributed them nationwide from the 1930s through the 1970s.
Today, hundreds of fast food chains compete for customers throughout the United States and beyond. Besides White Castle, other fast food operations that got their start in Kansas include Pizza Hut (the largest pizza restaurant chain in the world), Big Cheese Pizza, Taco Tico, and Taco Grande.
"In the early days, the traveler fed on the buffalo. For doing so, the buffalo got his picture on the nickel. Well, Fred Harvey should have his picture on one side of the dime, and one of his waitresses with her arms full of delicious ham and eggs on the other side, 'cause they have kept the West supplied with food and wives."
-- Will Rogers, 1924