100 years of sandwiches

The invention of the sandwich, of putting stuff between two slices of bread, is credited to the fourth Earl of Sandwich John Montagu (1718-1792) though this is one of those things where the claim of being the first has to be taken with a huge grain of salt since the idea of using some kind of bread as a wrapper for other foods dates back much farther. But for whatever reason, justified or not, his name is associated with it.

The first written usage of the English word appeared in Edward Gibbon’s journal, in longhand, referring to “bits of cold meat” as a “Sandwich”. It was named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, an 18th-century English aristocrat. It is said that he ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread, and others began to order “the same as Sandwich!” It is commonly said that Lord Sandwich was fond of this form of food because it allowed him to continue playing cards, particularly cribbage, while eating, without using a fork, and without getting his cards greasy from eating meat with his bare hands.

But the sandwich, like everything else, has evolved over time. Via Caroline Siede, I came across this video of young children trying out various sandwiches that were popularized in different decades of the 20th century. I had not realized how many different kinds of names there are for sandwiches.


  1. Menyambal says

    I was late for class one morning, and really wanted the bit of beef I had no time to eat. I decided to take it with me, and looked for a container or wrapper. A paper towel was my first thought, but it would stick to the meat and be a bother to carry until I found a trash can. A slice of bread would be better, and I could eat it afterward, was my next thought. Two slices would be nicer, and I could bite right through them. I slapped it all together, and was halfway across campus before I realized I had re-invented the sandwich.

    Seriously, I had no recollection of sandwiches, in my hurry, I just went through options from necessity, and arrived at the same thing. So you can’t tell me nobody else invented it before the Earl. (And wouldn’t he have just asked for an English pie or a Cornish pasty?)

    Most sandwiches are messy to eat, in my experience. Have you ever fed a PB&J to a four-year-old? Hamburgers are sloppy. Plus your hands really need to be sanitary before you start -- they will be touching your food.

    The Earl may have ordered something dainty, and been enough of a gentleman to manage it, but I doubt the motivation in the story.

  2. anat says

    Do people typically make sandwiches with that many ingredients when they pack a lunch for school/work? I grew up with a sandwich of buttered bread, a slice of cheese, a slice of bell pepper. My mother would prepare 5 sandwiches each morning, so the bell pepper was all used up. Nowadays my standard sandwich is humous and spinach (or whichever greens are available). I never understood why Americans think peanut butter goes with jelly. If anything, it should go with some hot sauce.

  3. says

    anat #2 -- Peanut butter and banana was one of my favorites as a kid, especially when grilled.

    Being a child of the 70s, though, most of my school lunches consisted of bologna and a smear of mayo on Wonder bread. Maybe there would be lettuce, but usually not.

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