The Earl of Sandwich’s favorite snack – Who Invented the Sandwich?

The Earl of Sandwich’s favorite snack,Who Invented the Sandwich?

The famed English Statesman John Montagu named, but did not invent, the sandwich.

Legends hold that Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, invented the tasty food stuff that is his namesake. Montague was a popular member of England’s peerage in the 18th century, and it seems he had a knack for converting nouns into homage to his rank. The Hawaiian Islands were once known as The Sandwich Islands, thanks to explorer James Cook’s admiration for the Earl, who was the acting first Lord of Admiralty at the time. Although it does seem likely that Montague is responsible for dubbing the popular food item a sandwich, he certainly was not the first to squash some grub between slices of bread.

It seems likely that sandwiches of one sort or another were eaten whenever and wherever bread was made. When utensils weren’t available, bread was often used to scoop up other foods. Arabs stuffed pita bread with meats, and medieval European peasants lunched on bread and cheese while working in the fields. The first officially recorded sandwich inventor was Rabbi Hillel the Elder of the first century BC. The rabbi sandwiched chopped nuts, apples, spices, and wine between two pieces of matzoh, creating the popular Passover food known as Charoset.

In medieval times, food piled on bread was the norm. Prior to the fork, it was common to scoop meat and other food on two pieces of bread and spread it around with a knife. The leftover pieces of bread, called trenchers, were often fed to pets when the meal was complete. Primary sources from the 16th and 17th centuries refer to handheld snacks as “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese.” People often ate sandwiches, they simply didn’t call them that.

Regardless of the sandwich-like foods that were eaten prior to the 18th century, it appears that the 4th Earl of Sandwich is responsible for the emergence of the sandwich as a distinct food category. But how this happened is unclear. The most popular story relates to Montague’s fondness for eating salted beef between pieces of toasted bread. Montague was also known for his gambling habit and would apparently eat this proto sandwich one-handed during his endless hours at a famous London gambling club. His comrades began to request “the same as Sandwich” and eventually the snack acquired its name.

The source that supports this story is Tour to London, a travel book that was popular at the time among the upper echelons of society. In one passage, the author of the book, Pierre Jean Grosley, claimed that in 1765, ”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 bit of beef between two slices of toasted bread. This new dish grew highly in vogue… it was called by the name of the minister who invented it.” According to this scenario,” sandwich” initially referred to Montagu’s preferred beef and bread meal and was subsequently used as an umbrella phrase for a variety of sandwich types.

John Montagu’s biographer, N.A.M.Rodger, offers an alternative explanation for the rise of the sandwich. He argues that during the 1760s, when the sandwich was first called a sandwich, the Earl was actually busy with government responsibilities and didn’t have time to gamble much. He did, however, spend many nights working at his desk, during which time he liked to munch on beef and bread. It is possible, Rodger argues, that the sandwich came to be a reference to the Earl’s tireless work ethic and general fondness for late-night snacking.


Origin of the Sandwich