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Savor Tonight claims:

During WWI, the US Gov’t tried to rename hamburgers as ‘liberty sandwiches.’

I've found this claim on several other websites, too.

This is definitely a case where Wikipedia fails to be a good source. It claims:

During World War II, waves of anti-German sentiment inspired some to refer to hamburgers as "liberty sandwiches."

Note the discrepancy between WW1 and WW2. The cited source was an article in The Chive about WW2.

Hamburgers were renamed “Liberty Steaks” in order to avoid the German-sounding name for a brief period of time.

Note the discrepancy between "sandwiches" and "steaks". The Chive doesn't give a source.

The inconsistency between articles and the poor referencing has all the signs of a claim that is untrue. It is also similar to freedom fries, which has a basis in truth, so the claim is remotely believable.

Did the U.S. government ever make an effort to change the name of hamburgers to "liberty sandwiches" or "liberty steaks"?

  • Shortly after Sep. 11, 2001, some started to call things "freedom" whatever. This was especially popular for anything with the word french in the name (e.g. "french fries" became "freedom fries") because the French government did something that made a bunch of Americans mad, but I don't remember what it was exactly. I heard on the radio a few years ago that the cafeteria at the USA congress building finally changed the name back to "french fries". In light of the popularity of french fries ("chips" in Europe), I would not be surprised if someone suggested a counterpart for hamburgers. – fredsbend Jan 5 '17 at 23:07
  • The habit also became a bit of a meme, where any random object would be renamed "freedom" something. The popular American TV show American Dad made the joke more than once in my memory. – fredsbend Jan 5 '17 at 23:08
  • 2
    @fredsbend France opposed the invasion of Iraq. – ventsyv Jan 6 '17 at 21:21
  • @ventsyv Could have been that. I remember something about pledging to help, but only with a thousand or so cots and nothing else. – fredsbend Jan 7 '17 at 1:48
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Yes, several restaurants renamed hamburgers, but that doesn't mean the US Government was involved.

World War I example

From a 1976 interview with German-American T. Max Kniesche, who moved to San Francisco in 1907, and worked in restaurants and cafes there:

Teiser: What was it like in San Francisco for Germans during the first world war? You were working at a clearly German restaurant. [...]

Teiser: Did you change the kind of food that you served, or the decorations?

Kniesche: Well, the hamburger steak was Liberty Steak. French-fried potatoes were Liberty Potatoes. [laughter] We called it Liberty, but the liberty wasn't there. Anyhow, everything went to "Liberty." [laughter]

World War II Example

This menu is from a New York cafe, in 1941:

Combination Grill, consisting of 1 lamb chop, 2 sausages and 1 liberty steak.

(I suspect, from context, that "liberty steak" referred to a hamburger patty, and a "liberty sandwich" referred to a hamburger - a patty in a bun - but I haven't got a reference for that.)

  • There seems to be "patriotic food names" trend after a calamity - before the invasion of Iraq, french fries were "renamed" freedom fries... – ventsyv Jan 6 '17 at 15:45
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    An April 1919 reference says "liberty sandwich" is "frankfurters under camouflaged title" at a New York restaurant. books.google.com/… – DavePhD Jan 6 '17 at 16:21
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The 18 August 1918 Richmond Times Dispatch had an article Hamburger Liberty Steak:

Patrons Objected to German Inference in Old Name, and Suggested Patriotic Cognomen

Peoria, Ill. August 17, "Liberty Steaks" have supplanted hamburgers in restaurants here. Patrons objected to German inference in the old name, and suggested the more patriotic cognomen. Proprietors readily adopted it.

A 01 July 1918 The Washington Herald article If It's Hamburger Say Liberty Steak also attributes the origin to Peoria, Illinois restaurant patrons.

See also the 11 June 1918 El Paso Herald.

So the change to "Liberty Steak" was not due to the government.

However, as explained in Have You Bought Liberty Cabbage Yet? New York Tribune 25 April 1918, purchase of sauerkraut had markedly declined and dealers asked the Federal Food Board for help, and the Board suggested changing the name to "liberty cabbage". This term caught on and numerous newspaper articles from this time period refer to "liberty cabbage".

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