Interview with Emil Wurm

Emil Wurm worked with Charlie from 1917 to 1923.

What type of work did you do for Hamburger Charlie?

I started working for Hamburger Charlie (far left in image) in the early summer of 1917. I was 12 years old at the time. Charlie had an ice cream store on East College Avenue in Appleton. He usually made 30 to 60 gallons of ice cream a week. He had two ice cream wagons pulled by horses. We would go out in the city, ring the bell, and sell cones for a nickel. A full quart was 50 cents.

Did you travel to fairs with Charlie?

Absolutely! In the late summer Charlie started getting his equipment ready for fairs. This included the hamburger stand, benches, stoves and numerous other pieces of equipment. The first few years we traveled by horse and wagon. The Seymour fair was always the first on his list, then to Brown County, also by horse and wagon. In 1920 Charlie bought a Dodge truck and that made travel faster.

Were you usually busy at the fair?

Business started early. We usually fed the horsemen (sulky drivers) at about 6:00 A.M. I remember one fellow who ate 12 hot cakes and 9 fried eggs for breakfast. The first day of the fair was usually slow, but on "Appleton Day" the grounds were swamped with people. There were as many as 8 of us in the stand on busy days. We spent part of the morning making hamburger balls and putting them in containers for the afternoon rush. When the grandstand show was finished, on some days, we would sell 150 pounds of hamburgers and 75 pounds of wieners, plus pop and ice cream cones.

Did Charlie ever talk about the early days?

Charlie said he was the first to call ground beef in a bun a "hamburger." He started coming to the Seymour fair when he was 15 years old in 1885. In fact, he had a sign that said, "Since 1885."

What type of a person was Hamburger Charlie?

He was a fine man to work with and very sympathetic to his fellow man. He had many friends, both in Appleton and out at the fairs, where there was much competition. He was very outgoing. When business was slow, Charlie would get out his guitar and mouth organ and play a few tunes. He sang old favorites and that usually would draw a crowd.

Was that part of his sales pitch or would he just entertain the people?

Part of his purpose was entertainment, but once he drew a crowd he would start marketing his burgers. He would chant something like, "Hey you skinny rascals don't you ever eat?" or "We have seats to sit down and rest your poor old grandmother." Another one he liked was, "We have Honest John out in the kitchen picking the warts off of pickles for dinner, he is the youngest child out of 17 small children."

Did Charlie do a lot of the work or did he mostly promote his products?

Charlie usually fried the hamburgers, onions and hot dogs. It was hard to work all day at the big pan and I usually relieved him when he got tired and he would go back to promoting. The hours were long and tiresome, but the pay was good. We earned eight dollars a week and meals, and a blanket and a pile of hay in the horse barn.