Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Flipping Burgers into a Career

November 25, 2015 Archive Insight


White Castle System eating house operators Abie Best and Don Dunivent pose for their photograph outside -THF98358 - and at the counter - THF98355 - in Kansas City, Missouri, probably 1927.

Alvin Alonzo Dunivent, nicknamed "Don" by his coworkers, began working in a Kansas City, Missouri, White Castle restaurant in July 1927. He flipped burgers and worked the counter of this small fast food restaurant. The White Castle System of Eating Houses, Corporation called his position an operator for the Kansas City Plant. Employment included corporate training in customer service and pride of a job well done in this emerging industry. It was a good career move for Don.

Hamburgers were considered an inferior “poor man’s food” until fry cook Walter Anderson improved their reputation by coming up with a secret new cooking method. In 1921, he and partner Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram opened a chain of hamburger eating houses—compact, castle-like structures they called “White Castles.” From the architecture to the menu to the workers’ appearances, White Castle set a new standard for cleanliness and uniformity.

For a hardworking young man like Alvin “Don” Dunivent, White Castle offered opportunity. Dunivent was born into a farming family on June 20, 1897. He and his twin brother, Albert, were the eighth and ninth of twelve children of Thomas and Georgia Ann Dunivent. The family lived in rural Silver Creek Township and later Clifton Village, Missouri. Dunivent grew up accustomed to hard, outdoor work and as a young man landed jobs in a poultry house and a shale mine for a cement company in Hannibal, Missouri.

Alvin A. "Don" Dunivent's business card (front and back views), die cut in the shape of a White Castle System eating house, St. Louis, Missouri, probably 1935. THF98352

Alvin A. "Don" Dunivent's business card (front and back views), die cut in the shape of a White Castle System eating house, St. Louis, Missouri, probably 1935. THF98352

The White Castle Official House Organ. THF98354

In 1927, at age 30, Dunivent began working for the White Castle System "on the ground floor.” As a young, married man, he was probably seeking work beyond the manual labor he was accustomed to. In his new job, Dunivent would have the opportunity to interact with customers and other employees. But most importantly, he probably welcomed the chance that his hard work and understanding of the corporate philosophy of quality and good customer service could provide a career.

By February 1930 Dunivent had become Assistant Manager for the Kansas City Plant. By the mid-1930s, he was Supervisor of the St. Louis, Missouri area for White Castle System, Inc. Dunivent’s long career with White Castle lasted through the 1950s.

Don Dunivent, Assistant Manager, standing outside of the White Castle System Plant in Kansas City, Missouri, probably 1930. THF98361

The White Castle System provided financial stability for people willing to work hard and embrace the company's philosophy. It certainly provided a welcome career for Don Dunivent.

We know about Alvin “Don” Dunivent's career at White Castle and some of his home life from a wonderful archival collection given to the museum by his great-grandnephew on the Lindsey side of the family. This material includes family papers relating to Alvin Dunivent and Mabel Lindsey's courtship and marriage, family portrait photographs, as well as photographs relating to Dunivent's years with White Castle eating houses. These photos, dating from the 1920s to the 1950s, include White Castle restaurants, employees and managers, and company bowling leagues and picnics. The Alvin A. Dunivent Collection is available to researchers at The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center.

White Castle is one of the fast food restaurants highlighted in the Driving America exhibit in Henry Ford Museum. The museum's collection contains a stained glass sign from a 1930s White Castle restaurant, a restaurant uniform from the 1980s, and promotional items from the 1950s-1995.

By Cynthia Read Miller, Former Curator of Photographs and Prints at The Henry Ford. This story originally ran as part of our Pic of the Month series.

Missouri, 20th century, restaurants, popular culture, home life, food, by Cynthia Read Miller, archives

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