The First Whataburger Cost Less Than A Dollar

The founders of Whataburger really took the phrase "everything is bigger in Texas" to heart when developing their marquee item. When the chain was established in 1950, the average size of a hamburger patty til then was just two piddling ounces, while the bun was two-and-a-half-inches thick, according to Clio. That just wouldn't do for the chain's co-founder Harry Dobson who was a real go-getter, having worked as a pilot, an oil worker, and even in the diamond industry. After a deal with an oil worker partner had gone south, he came to southern Texas to start over. Soon after, he met Paul Burton, a cook who was eager to start a fast food business with an emphasis on quality hamburgers, per Clio, and they got to work on doing just that.

"What a burger!" is what Dobson wanted to hear when people took a bite into one of Burton's burgers. Compared to their competition at the time, Whataburgers would clock in at four ounces, surrounded by a five-inch bun (per Texas State Historical Association). Moreover, the pair's new enterprise would only use fresh beef and vegetables, and they would prepare every hamburger to order. Amusingly, Dobson and Burton couldn't even find a company making such a vast bun, so they had to custom order their own mold and pans!

On August 8, 1950, the first Whataburger opened up in Corpus Christi, Texas, conveniently located across from Del Mar College. How much would one of their standard hamburgers set you back? Only 25 cents, which if adjusted for inflation, would equate to $2.89 today. But how would that price compete with other burgers back in the day?

Some chains offered more beef for your buck

It appears many Texans have a lot of pride in their homegrown businesses. Whataburger is no exception, having received "Texas Treasure" status more than 20 years ago. (Folks, it's a hamburger, not a cure for cancer.)

Yet, few brands are as recognizable around the world as U.S. fast food chains are, with McDonald's being the obvious first choice. Even though Dick and Mac McDonald joined the fast food industry first by selling hot dogs in the 1940s, per People, it was only in 1948 that they made that legendary switch to hamburgers, charging 15 cents each (per the official website). At the time, that was 10 cents cheaper than Whataburger. Lest we forget, though, there was actually another quick-service restaurant that had already become the first fast food concept in the U.S., sizzling up burgers starting two decades earlier — it was White Castle, founded in 1921. Though, they only charged 5 cents a slider originally, but then again it was much smaller in size. 

As a matter of fact, so effective were White Castle founders Edgar Waldo "Billy" Ingram and Walter Anderson at cooking up the patties that each grill only had enough space for the bun or the meat (per Smithsonian Magazine). On the flip side — pardon the pun — this also meant orders weren't customizable. That's the other beauty of Whataburger. If you're looking for more than a mere slab of beef shoved between two pieces of bread, there are apparently 36,864 ways to customize a burger here, making it totally worth the $3.09 it costs for a basic burger today.