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Dr. James Salisbury, a germ theory pioneer, invented Salisbury Steak to combat illness among Civil War troops.

Categories: History, NYS History, People, WCNY Vignette

Best known in our time as a staple of TV dinners and bargain buffets, the Salisbury Steak actually has its beginnings as a proposed cure for digestive illness during the Civil War. Far from the nuisance it is in the US today, digestive illnesses killed more soldiers during the Civil War than combat did, and a diet rich in beefsteak and coffee was one suggested cure. The inventor of the Salisbury Steak, Dr. James Henry Salisbury, born near Cortland, New York, was an early pioneer of germ theory, and of diet being a factor in health. While some of his ideas may be outmoded today, such as his belief that vegetables released powerful toxins in the digestive system, his affection for beefsteak and his promotion of its positive effect on health, has persisted. While patties of ground or tenderized beef are common fare, the Salisbury Steak was cemented in the American lexicon during World War I. In many English-speaking countries, there was a movement to limit the use of German-sounding words, so the Army served Salisbury Steak rather than Hamburg Steak, and Liberty Sandwiches instead of Hamburgers.

Video produced by WCNY.