The predecessor to what is now called Burger King was founded in 1953 in Jacksonville, Florida, as Insta-Burger King. The original founders and owners, Keith J. Kramer and his wife’s uncle Matthew Burns, opened their first stores around a piece of equipment known as the Insta-Broiler. The Insta-Broiler oven proved so successful at cooking burgers, they required all of their franchises to carry the device.
While the Jacksonville chain kept expanding, two friends named James McLamore and David R. Edgerton, both alumni of the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, were seeking an opportunity to open their own business. McLamore had visited the original McDonald’s hamburger stand belonging to Dick and Mac McDonald in San Bernardino, California; sensing potential in their innovative assembly line-based production system, he decided he wanted to open a similar operation of his own.
Upon McLamore’s return to Miami, the pair purchased a license to operate an Insta-Burger King franchise and opened their first location on December 4, 1954 at 3090 NW 36th Street in Miami, Florida. By 1959 McLamore and Edgarton were operating several locations within the Miami-Dade area and growing at a fast clip. Despite the success of their operation, the partners discovered that the design of the insta-broiler made the units heating elements prone to degradation from the drippings of the beef patties. The pair eventually created a mechanized gas grill that avoided the problems by changing the way the meat patties were cooked in the unit. The new cooking appliance, which they called a flame broiler, moved the patties over the flame vertically on a chain link conveyor over the heating elements, a design that imparted grill lines on the meat similar to those made on a charcoal grill. The new unit worked so well, that they made the decision to replace all of their Insta-Broilers with the newly designed unit.
Even though the company had rapidly expanded throughout the state until its operations totaled more than 40 locations in 1955, the original Insta-Burger King ran into financial difficulties and the pair of McLamore and Edgarton purchased the national rights to the chain in 1959 and rechristened the company as Burger King of Miami. The company eventually became known as Burger King Corporation and began selling territorial franchise licenses to private owners across the US by 1961.
For more on the history of Burger King, read The Burger King: Jim McLamore and the Building of an Empire.