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Ask Chef Walter: The Sandwich. Made in the USA – Walter Potenza

Friends and RINT readers:

The sandwich has become an integral part of American cuisine, and it isn’t easy to imagine a world without it. Sandwiches are quick, easy, and satisfying meals that consumers enjoy on the go or in the comfort of one’s homes. Let’s briefly dive into the fascinating history of how the sandwich was born in America. As we know it today, the sandwich consists of two slices of bread, any bread, with a filling of some type in between. 

The sandwich originated in the 18th century, when John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, popularized the concept in England. 

Legend has it that the Earl of Sandwich was a passionate gambler who did not want to leave his game for a meal. So, he ordered his cook to prepare him a snack that he could eat with one hand while continuing to play cards with the other, which is what we do today when we play with our smartphones.

However, the birth of the sandwich in America has a different story. Several immigrants brought their respective culinary traditions based on their provenience. The idea took several years before it became popular among the masses. Still, eventually, the portable convenience of consuming a meal on the go took over the consumer’s mindset.

One of the earliest recorded mentions of the sandwich in America dates back to 1837 when the American cookbook author Mary Randolph published a recipe for “bread and meat” in her book “The Virginia Housewife.” The recipe described thinly sliced beef layered between two slices of bread and sweet and sour mustard as an additional flavor. However, it was not identified as a sandwich then, but it did have all the elements of a sandwich in America. Another early mention of the sandwich in America came from the 1840s when Irish immigrants introduced the “corned beef on rye”sandwich to New York City in several shops along Madison Avenue.

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In Ireland, corned beef was famous and readily available. The immigrants continued the tradition once they arrived on the Atlantic coasts—thinly sliced corned beef layered on thick slices of rye bread and generously blended with spicy mustard. The addition of cheese came years later when America’s love for cheese forced the original Irish masterpiece into a submissive alteration. 

Nevertheless, the sandwich quickly became a favorite among New Yorkers and is still a famous hand-held delight today.

In the later years of the 19th and early 20th centuries, sandwiches became even more popular in America after several manufacturers introduced soft-white sliced bread, making it easier to prepare sandwiches. In the 1920s, white bread became a symbol of industrialization and modernity. Companies like Tip Top and Wonder Bread brought factory automation to bread-making. The invention of sliced bread, allegedly in Chillicothe, Mo., in 1928, was “really the culmination of a long process engineered and designed to make white bread appear as a streamlined wonder, like an edible piece of modern art.

In 1928, Otto Frederick Rohwedder’s invention of the automatic bread-slicing machine made sliced bread more widely available and affordable, further popularizing the sandwich. During World War II, sandwiches became even more important in America because they were a convenient and portable meal for soldiers on the front lines. The US Army included sandwiches in its rations. Soldiers often used them as a quick and easy meal while on the move to replenish energy and goodwill. 

In the post-war era, sandwiches continued to be popular in America. As a result, new varieties of sandwiches appeared in the marketplace, along with the initial process of the sandwich franchise movement. Fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and Subway made sandwiches even more accessible to the American public, and sandwiches became a staple of American cuisine.


Sandwiches have become a staple in American culture and offer various options for every taste and occasion. There is no shortage of choices, from the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich to the famous Philly cheese steak. Immigrants have played a significant role in introducing convenience and innovation to America, and we should thank them for their contributions to our love of sandwiches.

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