Morris Burger - Burger's Smokehouse
Morris Burger has seen both the big and small of the ham curing
business. As a boy growing up in rural Moniteau County, Mr. Burger
attended one room schools. He began working with his family’s country
cured ham business at an early age, and has stayed with it ever since,
growing the business into a highly successful corporation. “Our goal was
to create the best and biggest country ham plant in the nation,” says
Burger. And he and his family have managed to do just that. Based out of
California, Mo., Burger Smokehouse is the nation’s largest producer of
country ham and specialty smoked meats, producing over 750,000 hams,
bacon, sausage and other specialty meats.
As an entrepreneur, Mr. Burger understands the traits one must have to
successfully grow a family-owned business. He emphasizes the risk-taking
that is a constant reality for the entrepreneur. Referring to the famous
economist Adam Smith and his work The Wealth of Nations, Burger says
that an entrepreneur is “one who is led by an invisible hand…someone who
is not afraid to go where there are no tracks in the snow…a person who
organizes a business and assumes the risk for the sake of profit for him
and his family.”
Mr. Burger is a terrific example of how entrepreneurship is
generational, passed down from parents to children. Coming from a family
of entrepreneurs, Morris saw firsthand the entrepreneurial spirit in
action. His grandmother was from Germany and brought ham curing know-how
with her to America. His father was the ultimate entrepreneur. His
father cured his first ham in 1927, sold hams during the Great
Depression, and tried his hand at different food products through the
1930’s. He was never content to simply eke out a living, but was always
looking for ways to improve the financial and social standing of himself
and his family.
Ownership of Burger’s Smokehouse was more like a family hobby than a
business during the 1950’s, but expanded in 1955 when Morris’ father put
his vision of selling hams out of state into action. Morris began to
work more directly with the company in 1959, and worked with his father
through the 1960’s. During that time, the company kept doubling in size
under his watch.
While growing up, Mr. Burger was a member of 4-H, and is still very
supportive of the program. He is a current member of the Missouri 4-H
Foundation board of trustees. He is quick to point out the role that 4-H
has played in his life and all it continues to provide to youth. He sees
plentiful opportunities in 4-H that youth should get involved in to
their advantage. Among these are public speaking, demonstrations, and
other opportunities for learning and gaining practical experience. Food
preparation, grafting, splicing, and basic carpentry were skills Mr.
Burger acquired through 4-H. He also learned public speaking and
communication skills which continue to be vital to his success as a
businessman, whether working with employees, suppliers, or customers.
Mr. Burger also emphasizes the responsibility that 4-H helped him learn,
which he continued to apply butchering and preparing meats. For example,
failing to properly render (or separate) fat from the meat would mean
scalded or unusable lard for the next year. He was given more and more
responsibility year to year. As he mastered one skill, another task was
added the next year.
Mr. Burger is also an excellent example of an entrepreneur who gives
back to the community. Over the years, he has worked with tens of
thousands of 4-H members, demonstrating curing techniques to
participants in the 4-H ham project every year since 1986. Recently, the
Burger family became donors of the MU Flagship Scholars program, which
provides scholarships for students from Moniteau County to attend Mr.
Burger’s alma mater, the University of Missouri.
In terms of advice for today’s young entrepreneurs, Mr. Burger
recommends: “Don’t let fear of failure cripple you. Get yourself used to
being in front of people and leading.” Echoing the pillars of 4-H
character education, he says, “Honesty and integrity are very important.
Once you lose credibility, it’s impossible to completely get it back.
Keep balance sheets and do bookkeeping. Do what you say you’re going to
To learn more about the history of Burger’s Smokehouse or to get
directions for stopping by the on-site visitor center and taking a tour,
If you know another 4-H alumnus who has applied their “Clover
experience” to becoming a successful entrepreneur, please contact Adam