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A finding aid for the White Castle System, Inc collection is now accessible online. The finding aid contains information about the history of White Castle and the records available for research use. To view the records, please visit the Archives/Library Research Room. For more information, please call (614) 297-2510 or e-mail the ohsref@ohiohistory.org.

White Castle System, Inc. finding aid index

 
  White Castle Collection Overview  

In observance of its seventy-fifth anniversary, White Castle System, Inc. recently donated a collection of corporate memorabilia and inactive company records to the Ohio Historical Society. The collection includes four primary types of material--newsletters, audiovisuals, artifacts, and manuscripts.

The major newsletter file contained within the collection consists of issues of the White Castle House Organ covering the years 1925 to 1978. Printed from November 1925 to December 1926 as the Hot Hamburger, this publication, concentrated on news relating to employees and included features such as promotion announcements, articles on longtime staff, and notes and photographs from employees at various White Castle areas throughout the country. Other publications on file include the Home Front, a newsletter that was printed for employees at corporate headquarters in Columbus, and the General Letter, which was distributed to field personnel and included notes and articles on advertising, building plans, and corporate departments.

Thirty-three cubic feet of audiovisual material form an important part of the White Castle donation. Photographs and negatives comprise most of the audiovisuals, but also included are architectural records, advertising films and audio tapes, and assorted ephemera such as pads of bridge score cards that once played a large role in the company's marketing program. The bulk of the photographs are in files arranged alphabetically by city and then numerically by individually numbered restaurant location. These files may contain photographs of the first hamburger stand built at a particular location, some of which date to the 1920s, as well as photographs of the present restaurant at that site. Other files include individual and group photographs of employees, views of various factory and bakery operations, and general advertising and promotional photographs.

The collection also contains a number of three-dimensional objects such as hats and uniforms, glasses, plates, and other tableware, along with various pieces of restaurant equipment. These items are now part of the historical society's museum collection. One notable piece of tableware is a coffee cup designed and made with slots along its bottom rim through which rinse water drains, another innovation patented by White Castle.

One hundred cubic feet of manuscripts compose the bulk of White Castle's gifts to the society, with the largest part of this material falling into two categories. Approximately one-half of the manuscript file is taken up by various financial records, including sales statistics and analyses from 1931 to 1987, weekly cash sheets and general ledgers from 1929 to 1980, and accounts of building expenses for the years 1922 to 1982. The second largest part of this file is a twenty-cubic-foot series of scrapbooks and binders containing magazine and newspaper clippings pertaining to White Castle restaurants, the various subsidiaries of White Castle System, Inc., and the hamburger business in general. Most of this material is arranged by year, with the notable exception of a small series of scrapbooks documenting civil-rights disturbances during the early 1960s at White Castle restaurants in New York City.

The rest of the manuscript collection comprises a wide variety of material and includes five boxes of studies, correspondence, articles, and quality analyses dating from 1935 to 1981 and related to the meat used in White Castle hamburgers. Also encompassed by the manuscript series are real estate records (1920s-1940s) for individual restaurant locations; marketing analyses (1950s-1960s) of the corporation's coupon and direct-mail advertising programs; a ledger (1920s) of employee discharges; a personal account ledger (1927-1936) kept by Billy Ingram; and a small file (1930) on the Julia Joyce hostess program. The collection also contains several employee manuals, including a plant and department manager's handbook (1932) and a manual for restaurant employees (1963).

Minutes of the annual meeting of area managers and department heads contain the most information on the growth and success of White Castle. These important records, which date from 1928 to 1980, show an interesting contrast between topics discussed during the company's early years and those on the agenda after decades of expansion. The 1928 meeting, for example, focused on white Castle's initial goal of standardizing its restaurant operations. The minutes for this meeting, which include thirty-nine pages of standards covering everything from the personal appearance of employees to the care of onions and pickles, read like a manual. In contrast, the minutes for the three-day meeting held in 1980, which are equally important from a historical perspective, reveal discussions between high-level company officials on such diverse topics as sales, union activities, television advertising, expansion into foreign markets, and the politics of the upcoming presidential election.

The White Castle donation offers students, business scholars, and the general research public a glimpse into the everyday operations of a now eighty-year-old American corporation. The four-part collection documents the history of an American company made famous by its innovative business practices and the popularity of its chief product, which, in the final analysis, was the real source of its success. Billy Ingram put it best in a phrase used as the title of a speech he delivered in 1964 to the Newcomen Society in North America-- "All This from a 5-Cent Hamburger!"

Jeff Thomas - Preview, Volume 5/Number 4, Autumn 1996


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