05/20/2014 12:21 pm ET Updated Jul 20, 2014

The Surprising Origins of Your Favorite Sandwiches

Flickr / Brian Just Got Back From...

The sandwich is called by many names, but whether referred to as a sub, a roll, a hoagie, a hero, or by any other name, it's eaten all over the world. It wasn't until the late 1700s (that we know of) that a prominent man by the name of John Montagu, widely known as the fourth Earl of Sandwich, thought to combine the few ingredients he had available (a piece of beef and two slices of bread) in an effort to avoid interrupting his table game over his appetite. A French writer named Pierre-Jean Grosley recorded this first known sandwich-making moment in a book called Londres:

"A minister of state passed four and twenty hours at a public gaming-table, so absorpt in play, that, during the whole time, he had no subsistence but a piece of beef, between two slices of toasted bread, which he eat without ever quitting the game. This new dish grew highly in vogue, during my residence in London; it was called by the name of the minister who invented it."

Click Here to see the Surprising Origins of 10 Iconic Sandwiches

The term, "sandwich," and the food itself trended quickly, and was first written down not long after by another man, Edward Gibbon, who is the author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. On Nov. 24, 1762, he identifies a sandwich in his journal:

"That respectable body, of which I have the honour of being a member, affords every evening a sight truly English. Twenty or thirty, perhaps, of the first men in the kingdom, in point of fashion and fortune, supping at little tables covered with a napkin, in the middle of a coffee-room, upon a bit of cold meat, or a sandwich, and drinking a glass of punch."

More than 200 years later, sandwiches are known by many names and are made in many forms with many kinds of fillings, from the banh mi -- a warm baguette traditionally spread with mayonnaise and pâté and filled with ham, headcheese, sausage, and often additions like cucumber, tomato, cilantro, chilies, and relish -- to the Reuben, two slices of rye bread filled with corned beef, Swiss cheese, dressing, and sauerkraut, then melted.

Derived from the Earl's original beef sandwich, every type of sandwich originated from somewhere by someone. Once called a "banh tay," meaning "foreign cake," the sandwich now known as the bánh mì was first crafted in the Vietnamese city of Saigon when the French introduced baguettes to Vietnam. It was originally a delicacy eaten only by the upper class of Saigon, who preferred to dip it in sweetened condensed milk.

A French myth says that the croque monsieur, otherwise known as a "Crispy Mister," was accidentally discovered when a couple of French workers left their lunch pails full of cheese and ham sandwiches too close to a hot radiator. The sandwich appeared on French café menus around 1910 and was originally made simply with ham and Gruyère cheese, later evolving into other variations like the the croque madame, the croque Provencal, the croque tartiflette, and the Monte Cristo.

We may not know the origins of every type of sandwich, but we can thank the Earl of Sandwich for thinking to put a slab of meat between two slices of bread.

  • 1 Lobster Roll
    The makings of the lobster roll trace back to the 19th century, when New England hostesses began preparing lobster salad for their guests. In 1908, the New York Evening Post Cookbook recorded the first time lobster salad was served with toast. But the lobster roll, made by stuffing lobster salad between a hot dog bun drenched in butter, is believed to have been created at a restaurant named Perry’s in Milford, Conn., by restaurant owner Harry Perry. He made the sandwich for a regular customer sometime in the 1920s.
    Photo Credit: © Flickr / Chun Her
    Click Here to see the Surprising Origins of 10 Iconic Sandwiches
  • 2 PB&J
    Following the invention of peanut butter in the late 19th century, peanut butter sandwiches with pimentos and watercress were often served with tea and at fancy parties. Then, in 1901, a woman named Julia David Chandler published the first known recipe for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science & Domestic Economics.
    Photo Credit: © Flickr / Luis Vallecillo
  • 3 Philly Cheesesteak
    One day in the 1930s, a hot dog vendor in Philadelphia named Pat Olivieri grilled up some steak and served it on an Italian roll. A passing cab driver caught a whiff of the steak sandwich and asked for one. He spread the word about the sandwich to fellow cab drivers, who came in big numbers to Olivieri to try one. Realizing the steak sandwich was a hit, Olivieri opened a restaurant called Pat's King of Steaks. It wasn’t until the 1940s that cheese was added to the sandwich by Olivieri’s manager Joe Lorenza, creating the Philly Cheesesteak.
    Photo Credit: © Flickr / Brian Just Got Back From...
    Click Here to see the Surprising Origins of 10 Iconic Sandwiches
  • 4 Po’ Boy
    Many stories have been invented to tell the origin of the New Orleans po' boy, but the most likely story points to Clovis and Benjamin Martin, former streetcar drivers who opened a restaurant on St. Claude Avenue in the 1920s. When streetcar drivers went on strike in 1929, the brothers created an inexpensive sandwich consisting of gravy and bits of roast beef on French bread that they served unemployed workers out of the back of their restaurant. A worker would come to get one and the restaurant employees would yell, “Here comes another poor boy!” which eventually transferred to the name of the sandwich, “po’ boy.”
    Photo Credit: © Flickr / Eric Seetwist
  • 5 Reuben
    In the 1920s during what was called “a midnight lunch,” a man named Reuben Kulakofsky, who was playing poker at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, Neb. with his card mates, one of whom was the owner of the hotel, ordered a sandwich with corned beef and sauerkraut. Bernard Schimmel, who was the owner’s son and worked at his father’s hotel, made the sandwich by first draining the sauerkraut and mixing it with Thousand Island dressing before layering it with corned beef and Swiss cheese on dark rye bread. He then grilled the sandwich and served it with it a sliced kosher dill pickle and potato chips.
    Photo Credit: © Flickr / Sher Yip
    Click Here to see the Surprising Origins of 10 Iconic Sandwiches

-Haley Willard, The Daily Meal

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