By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
Growing up on the farm in a big family, we didn’t often go out to eat. We had an occasional bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, but more often we went to the local A&W.
Many times, the visit to the A&W was for a treat after a long summer day of making hay. We always got root beer ice cream cones for our treat. On those few occasions when we did eat our meal at the A&W, we remember the “family” of burgers that were offered on the menu.
Papa Burger, Mama Burger, Teen Burger, and Baby Burger were introduced in 1963. Our local A&W had the various burgers, but they did not have the family of statues. I always ordered the Teen Burger which was a bacon cheeseburger sandwich.
Joann and I found our first statues of the family on Route 66 on our way to the Ozarks. Luckily we found them when we did since they have been removed from the top of the truck.
We hunted up our first Teen Burger statue in Iowa in the summer of 2009. He was standing in front of an operating A&W restaurant and we captured him at first light.
Our next find was a Papa Burger statue in Minnesota. Papa Burger stands 8 1/2 feet tall with a 3 foot tall root beer mug. He was also at an operating A&W. When the owner saw us taking photos, he came out to chat for a few minutes. He told us his statue dated to the late 60’s.
Our best find, though, was on a trip to Iowa when we stopped at a campground that has a full set of statues on their mini golf course. As we pulled up to the office, we discussed Joann paying for a round of mini golf so she could get in to take photos. The owners were more than happy to let her in to take photos and said we didn’t have to pay them anything.
These are the only Mama Burger and Baby Burger statues we have found so far, but we’ll keep looking for more.
It’s not often we find even the single statues at a root beer stand these days and it’s even harder to find the whole family together. Many of the remaining statues now stand at restaurants that are no longer affiliated with A&W, and a few are privately owned and grace the owners’ backyards.
In 1974, A&W introduced Rooty the Great Root Bear as their new mascot and instructed their restaurant operators to use him in their advertising. At that time, the stores were encouraged to get rid of their Burger Family statues, but thankfully, a few of them did not.
Just this spring on our way to Ohio, we stopped at The Root Beer Stand in Illinois for a cold root beer and Joann took the opportunity to get photos of another Papa Burger statue.
If you visit any A&W’s this summer, cool off with a frosty mug and look around. You might see a large statue holding a burger and a mug.