When greeting a visitor and giving a tour of our plant, we usually give 1952 as the beginning date and the fact that 1,000 hams were cured the first year. However, the roots of BURGERS' OZARK COUNTRY CURED HAMS, INC. can be traced to the 1920's. The following excerpt taken from an article written June 18, 1984, gives a colorful description of those early days:
"As a lot of businesses have, Burgers' started small. In the mid-1920's when everybody was already busted down on the farm, E.M. Burger's folks started putting up hams. E.M.'s mother, Hulda, was from Germany, and she knew curing. E.M. would rattle off in his car to Jefferson City or up to Columbia and sell the hams to city folks, lawyers, doctors and other professional people, people with cash money. The first year, 1927, the Burgers sold six hams. The next year they sold 12. By the 1930's E.M. was married, curing and selling 24 hams himself. What he was doing was no more than following an old Missouri tradition. Most folks back then didn't have iceboxes, much less refrigerators, since there was hardly any electricity outside towns.
But they had a hog or two. And they had to eat. So they cured hams, using a mixture of salt (the curing agent), sugar (to hold the salt on), saltpeter and pepper (the last kept the bugs off).
It took E.M. until 1952 to cure 1,000 hams a year. Now his son can show people around the farm and point out the nails here and there in sheds and barns where the hams hung in the old days. The Burgers are understandably proud of those old nails that built the family business."
In 1952 E. M. Burger, a Moniteau County farmer, and his family formed a partnership for the purpose of processing old-fashioned country cured hams. During the summer a one room building (26'x60') was constructed on the bluff overlooking the Moreau Creek three miles south of California MO on the farm of F. A. Bueker, Burger's father-in-law. To distinguish it from the other farm building, this little structure comprising just a little over 1,500 square feet became known as the "Ham House." As farming was the family's major occupation, most of the ham housework was done at night. In the fall of 1952, working many hours overtime with no pay, the family cured 1000 hams. Neighbors questioned the sanity of the Burger family! How could they ever sell anywhere close to that number?
However, E. M. Burger was no novice. His mother, a native of Germany, brought to the new country the age-old art of meat curing so necessary to country life before electricity was introduced to rural America. As a youngster, Mr. Burger learned the basic recipe and principals involved in preserving meats to prevent spoiling. After his marriage to Natalia Bueker, the founder continued to cure meats for personal use. During the 1940's additional hams were processed and sold to provide extra money for his family that now included three children.
Mr. Burger proved his neighbors wrong and readily found markets for his quality hams to area restaurants and individual buyers. In fact, the problem proved to be that the little company could not produce the hams fast enough. Morris Burger remembers during the early days when his mom would summon his dad, who would be farming the bottom land, to come to the ham house for a sale by hanging a white dish towel on a tree outside the house.
By 1956 Mr. Burger was producing around 5,000 hams annually so he curtailed his farming activities to devote more time to the ham business. An expansion program was outlined. On July 23, 1956, the company became the first country cured meat company in the United States to receive Federal Inspection. The business was incorporated under the name Burgers' Ozark Country Cured Hams, Inc. in 1957. Mr. Burger's little dish towel business had proven successful."
The family owned corporation now comprises more than 305,545 square feet and is still located on the original site. Interestingly enough, that first little 1952 building remains a part of the existing plant complex. At the present time, the company produces 750,000 hams, bacon, sausage and a dozen other specialty meats.
President Steven Burger attributes much of the success of the family business to the hard work of the first and second generation, to the loyalty of past and present employees, and to the commitment of the third generation family members who are dedicated to its future success.