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The Vault: Is Louisville responsible for the creation of the cheeseburger?

Legend has it the combination of a hamburger, cheese and a bun was invented in Louisville in 1934 by Carl Kaelin at his restaurant Kaelin’s on Newburg Road.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The city of Louisville is known for many things – bourbon, tobacco, basketball and the Kentucky Derby. But cheeseburgers?

Legend has it the combination of a hamburger, cheese and a bun was invented in Louisville in 1934 by Carl Kaelin at his restaurant Kaelin’s on Newburg Road.

His daughter Irma Kaelin Raque knows the legend by heart.

“Mother was frying hamburgers at the time, but this one particular afternoon, we made lunch for the school children and she had some cheese. She was making cheese sandwiches and she was getting ready to put it away and daddy said, ‘Will you put some cheese on that hamburger and see what it tastes like?’ And she did and he said, ‘That’s pretty good,’” Irma told WHAS11 News in 1980.

Carl was so impressed by the invention that he shared the cheeseburger with others and put it on the restaurant’s menu. It was so simple that Carl never thought to patent his idea and copyright the name “cheeseburger.”

A 1934 menu showed Carl’s invention cost 15 cents in those days.

Others have also made claims of inventing the cheeseburger, but Irma was quick to defend her family’s legacy.

Credit: WHAS-TV
Cheeseburgers cooking in an iron skillet at Kaelin's in 1980

WHAS11 News reporters caught up with Irma in 1999 and asked her about a challenge.

"We had a talk back and forth with a group in Denver, Colorado who said they were first. We came out the winner there. So, it’s just kind of one of those things until somebody comes back and says it just ain’t so, were going to say were the creator of the cheeseburger."

Credit: Kaelin's
Carl Kaelin

Despite Kaelin’s history-making culinary creation, Irma decided in 2004 it was time to sell the longtime family restaurant. The restaurant left the hands of the family since it was founded.

Under new ownership, the restaurant fell on hard times and Kaelin’s closed in 2007.

Two years later, the location was bought and turned into a golf-themed pub and grill named Mulligans. The pub served burgers, pizza and seafood.

It didn’t last long, Mulligans closed a few years later and for years the Kaelin’s location sat vacant.

When all hope seemed lost, the building was purchased by a group of owners who grew up in the neighborhood and wanted to bring the home of the cheeseburger back.

Credit: WHAS-TV
FILE | A sign for the original Kaelin's Restaurant.

Rather than demolish the building, the new owners decided to renovate the historic building and bring it back to life.

In 2018 the restaurant 80/20 at Kaelin’s opened their doors.

If you're wondering about the name, 80/20 refers to the meat it uses for its cheeseburger – 80% beef, 20% fat for the perfect taste.

And since then, cheeseburgers continue to sizzle in Louisville and making sure this piece of Louisville history doesn't fade away.

Credit: WHAS-TV
A sign that reads "Birthplace of the cheeseburger; Carl & Margaret Kaelin 1934" that was in the original Kaelin's Restaurant

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