Food for Thought: The Layered History of Sandwiches

Happy National Sandwich Month! This timeless lunchtime favorite comes in many shapes and sizes, but have you ever wondered how this glorious creation came to be? Us, too! The exact history of the sandwich can be tricky to pin down, but there are a few key moments that led to the entrée we know and love today. 

One of the first instances of a sandwich-like feast was created by Hillel the Elder, a Jewish religious leader and scholar, as a dish for Passover around 110 B.C. It consisted of lamb, herbs, and horseradish in between two pieces of matzah bread, which is a cracker-like flatbread. 

Later, there’s evidence people used bread as a platter, called trenches, to serve up meat and potatoes in the Middle Ages. 

One of the most famous origin stories is when John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich (a town in England), requested that his dinner of meat and bread be served in a fashion that allowed him to continue playing a card game while he ate – genius. 

So how did we get where we are today? There’s evidence to suggest that sandwiches became a popular staple in the 1920s after Otto Rohwedder invented the bread slicer, which was first used at the Frank Bench Chillicothe Baking Company. Later, Rohwedder’s invention was adopted by Wonder Bread, one of the first companies to sell pre-sliced bread nationally. 

Sandwiches come in many shapes and sizes, all with unique backgrounds and flavor combos. Let’s look at a few of the most common and how they came to be. 

Grilled cheese is one of the most popular sandwiches in the country. And we know why – it’s delicious! Though the actual term “grilled cheese” wasn’t spotted in text until the ‘60s, these tasty faves were featured in Ancient Roman texts and have been made by the French since the early 1900s. 

Other sandwiches give us a peek into the history of the specific regions where they were created. Like hoagies, born and raised in Philadelphia, or po’boys, from New Orleans. 

The most widely accepted story of the creation of the hoagie is that Italian immigrants working in the Philadelphia Hog Island shipyard brought giant sandwiches for their lunch. The sandwich adopted the nickname of the workers, “hoggies,” which later became “hoagies.” 

The po’boy, also known as the oyster loaf, is a generic name for sandwiches served on French bread. The first appearance of this iconic sandwich was at the Martin Brothers Coffee Stand and Restaurant in 1925. 

The brothers created an inexpensive sandwich made of gravy and leftover roast beef on French bread that they would serve to unemployed workers during the 1929 streetcar strike. It’s said that the cooks would call out “here comes another poor boy,” and thus the name “po’boy” was born. 

While the history has many layers, one thing is for sure: All sandwiches are delicious and can be completely customized to your preference. With that said, let’s seize the day and level up a plain-Jane turkey sandwich. 

The Ultimate Turkey Sandwich 


For the slaw:

1 large carrot

½ head green cabbage

1 apple 

1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 

A pinch of granulated white sugar 

Salt and pepper to taste

For the spicy mayo spread: 

1 part sriracha

1 part mayonnaise

For the sandwich: 

2 slices Wonder bread

2 slices of deli sliced turkey 

1 leaf butter lettuce

2 slices of tomato 

1 slice of sharp cheddar cheese

Optional: jalapeño kettle-cooked chips


For the slaw: 

 1. Grate carrots, apple, and cabbage with a box grater and add to a large mixing bowl. 

 2 Add yogurt, Dijon mustard, and sugar. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix until combined. 

 3. Note: Store leftover slaw in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. 

For spicy mayo: 

 1. Combine sriracha and mayonnaise in a small mixing bowl until fully combined. 

For the sandwich: 

 1. Construct your sandwich! Spread spicy mayo on bread and layer with turkey slices, lettuce, tomato, and cheese. 

 2. Add slaw and top with chips, if desired. Add the final slice of bread. 

3. Chef’s kiss! Now that’s a sandwich – time to chow down. 

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Category: Food & Drink

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