New exhibit highlights local burger chain

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The history of America’s first hamburger chain is being celebrated in a local museum. The Ohio Historical Society is hosting an exhibit honoring the 85th anniversary of White Castle. The exhibit features everything from porcelain coffee mugs to the first industrial-strength spatula.

The exhibit is modeled after the storefront of a 1950′s era White Castle. The windows to the restaurant are glass cases that hold artifacts and pictures dating to the birth of the burger chain in 1921. Historical curator Michael Benz stares into a glass case at the new White Castle exhibit, and details some of the unique item.

“We have some of the original porcelain items used, the original cups and saucers,” Benz says. “We have posters that they used to use for advertising, and a lot of photographs.”

Benz directs the Historical Society’s Business Heritage Program, which helps area businesses maintain and display their collections. He’s worked with White Castle since the early 1990s, and says the idea for an exhibit came earlier this year when another museum asked to borrow the collection.

“We decided to do this when they had an exhibit they were going to put in the World of Coke’ in Atlanta,” Benz says. “They asked for our help with that, and we agreed to do that and supply some materials, and they agreed to bring the exhibit here when it was finished.”

The first White Castle was built in Wichita, Kansas in 1921. Columbus got its first restaurant in 1929, and five years later corporate offices moved to their current home on Goodale Street. Spokeswoman Debbie Cline says the chain now has more than 400 White Castles in the Midwest and Northeast. She says an important part of the company’s early success was staying open all night.

“For the longest time, we were the only fast-food restaurant open all 24 hours,” Cline says.

And Cline says the company accepts that a lot of people associate the restaurant with late night visits after leaving a bar. She says many people have their own White Castle story that happened late at night.

“We have more competition now that is staying open late, but that’s definitely the iconic image you bring to mind when you think of White Castle,” Cline says.

Cline speaks openly about the movie “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.” The plot of the film revolves around two college students who vow to make it to White Castle before the end of the night. Along the way the two drink alcohol, solicit prostitutes and smoke marijuana. She says the company chose not to put any Harold and Kumar items in the museum exhibit to avoid offending anyone. She says the company does not endorse their lifestyle, but she says the movie exemplifies the craving people get for their burgers.

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