Hamburger Harry Sperl is one of Daytona Beach's more eccentric residents. During Bike Week, Daytona's annual motorcycle rally, you can find him riding down Main Street in his custom-made Hamburger Harley. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. His 2,500 square foot home, a few blocks from the ocean, is a shrine to all things hamburger related: Big Boy statues, pieces of McDonald's playgrounds, hamburger light fixtures, hamburger toys, hamburger posters, a hamburger water bed. He even owns the blue AMC Pacer used as a delivery car in the movie Good Burger. He bought it from a private seller over a decade ago for $1,000, with the intention to restore it, but today it sits under a tarp, rotting away in the Florida weather.
Sperl has been building this collection for the past 29 years. The Guinness Book of World Records cataloged Harry's collection as having 3,724 pieces of hamburger memorabilia, earning him the record for owning the most hamburger-related items. Even with that number, though, Sperl told me the people from Guinness missed roughly 6,000 thousand items in storage.
This all started around 1987. Sperl, who trades novelties, collectibles, and souvenirs as a full-time job, was setting up a photo for the sale of a 1950s car-hop tray. So he purchased a toy soda, fries, and five hamburgers. The hamburgers ended up on his office desk. "A friend stops by and looks at the hamburgers and says, 'You are nuts, are you collecting hamburgers?'" Sperl told me. He had simply replied, "No, but maybe I should." And that was it.
In his first year of collecting, he says he accumulated 92 different hamburger items. At first, it was mostly small things—hamburger salt-and-pepper shakers, hamburger candles, hamburger dog toys, hamburger cookie jars. He would scour yard sales, flea markets, and anywhere else he could find hamburger-related items for his collection. When eBay came along, he started using the internet to amass much of what makes up his collection today.
The gem of his collection is his 1987 Harley Davidson Sportster, which was converted into a three-wheel bike with a fiberglass shell, designed and painted by a small team of what he calls his "hamburger helpers" to replicate a giant cheeseburger on wheels. He bought the bike in 1993 and spent two years and roughly $100,000 turning it into what it is today. Since it hit the road in 1995, the hamburger Harley been featured on television programs like The Jenny Jones Show, and in a commercial for Fruitopia, a fruit drink from the 90s.
Sperl was born in Germany, but moved to Florida in 1983 and became an American citizen shortly thereafter. To him, hamburgers are a symbol of patriotism—an ode to everything he loves about his adopted country: "friendly people, good food, American automobiles and motorcycles, the American way of life." The hamburger, to him, was the pinnacle of America.
"It's an American icon," he told me. "When you think of Germany, you think of beer and the autobahn. When you think of the United States of America, you think about hamburgers."
He used to eat hamburgers all the time, but due to his cholesterol, he had to cut back. Now, he eats a hamburger once a week or so. He says the best ones in Daytona Beach are at the Charlie Horse Restaurant, the Brickyard, Grind Gastropub, and Pirana Grill.
Aside from maybe the occasional animal rights activist feeling mocked, Sperl's trove of hamburgers bring joy to people, and that's a big part of the reason why he has continued to grow the collection. He tells me the greatest feeling is seeing a child's face light up as he rides by them on what seems like a floating cheeseburger. He loves the expression of happiness and disbelief that many people show when they see his home. To Sperl, it's a wonderful feeling, and it reaffirms why he established his collection in the first place—it's all in good fun.
Currently, Sperl's collection is private, which means you can only see it if he extends an invitation himself. But eventually, he'd like to sell the entire collection to someone who will display it to the public in a museum-type format or in conjunction with a larger museum as an exhibit. Sperl feels someone else has the resources to put this collection to better use and elicit more joyous feelings from people than he ever could with it. He wants the public to have a chance at appreciating what he has built, but he just doesn't have the means to make that a reality, and hopes someone else who shares his vision is out there to see it through.
For now, though, Hamburger Harry Sperl remains the burger king.