Harry F. Duncan
February 19,1899 – April 17, 1992
Harry F. Duncan, 93, founder of the Little Tavern carryout chain here, died of cancer April 17 at his home in Bal Harbour, Fla. A resident of Washington for more than 60 years, he moved to his winter home in Bal Harbour a year ago.
Mr. Duncan began his take-out business, featuring small, buy-’em-by-the-bag “baby beef burgers” in St. Louis in 1924. Three years later he moved the business to Louisville, where, he was later to claim, he invented the cheeseburger and initiated the concept of a light hamburger bun. The cheeseburger concept spread rapidly, before he had a chance to patent it, he said in a 1973 interview.
After moving to Washington in 1928, Mr. Duncan began opening a series of white-and-green Little Tavern shops, some of which came to be local landmarks of near-historic status. Little Tavern hamburgers, greasily fragrant with onions and small enough to go down in a few bites, usually were sold in multiples.
“Club LTs,” as the small carry-out shops were known in teenage circles, were distinguished by the harshness of their lights, the demeanor of the grillmen and the occasional lingering scent of disinfectant. There were nearly 50 Little Taverns in the area by the era of World War II.
Mr. Duncan made a fortune selling tiny hamburgers, and also did well in car dealerships, real estate and a hotel in Bal Harbour. He sold the privately held Little Tavern chain, then numbering about 30, in 1981.
A native of Savannah, Mo., Mr. Duncan served in the Navy Reserve during World War I. He attended the University of Missouri and later received an honorary doctorate of public service from George Washington University.
He was honorary chairman of the board of directors of the Boys Club of Washington, and founder of a Boys Club in Silver Spring that bears his name. An honorary trustee of George Washington University and an honorary member of the university’s hospital staff, he endowed the main lobby of the hospital at Washington Circle NW, now called the Harry F. Duncan Pavilion.
Mr. Duncan also was a member of the Luther Rice Society, Columbia Country Club, the Kiwanis Club of Silver Spring and the Shriners.
Mr. Duncan’s marriages to Doris Duncan and Bette Hartz Kendall Duncan ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife, Anneliese Duncan of Bal Harbour, and a sister, Mabel Dray of Savannah. A daughter from his first marriage, Kathleen Duncan Engel, died in 1944.