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Why Gambling Led John Montagu To Invent The Sandwich

Why Gambling Led John Montagu To Invent The Sandwich

The sandwich is a common sight in lunchboxes, office cafeterias, and delis around the world. It’s a staple in many cuisines globally, and its various forms can be found in almost every restaurant, lunchbox, and ballpark (though the debate over whether a hot dog is a sandwich continues).

Despite its universal presence, few people know the true origins of the sandwich. While it’s well-known in America, the sandwich was actually invented by a British man, John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich.

John Montagu, The Fourth Earl Of Sandwich

John Montagu was born in Great Britain in 1718. When he was just 10 years old, he succeeded his grandfather and became the Fourth Earl of Sandwich.

Most of Montagu’s life as the Earl was typical for a British diplomat of his time: he got married, had a mistress, and held various titles. He is perhaps best remembered for having the Hawaiian Islands initially named the Sandwich Islands in his honor (they were later renamed).

Montagu is also credited with “inventing” the sandwich. The story goes that he was an avid gambler who didn’t like to stop playing cards for meals. To solve this, he thought up a “food of convenience” that he could eat without leaving the game.

Thus, the sandwich was born. Montagu’s preferred sandwich was salt beef (corned beef) between two slices of toasted bread, likely the first version of the modern sandwich. However, his inspiration likely came from observing people in the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe using pita pockets and other flatbreads like naan to hold sandwich ingredients.

After seeing this convenient way of eating, Montagu adapted the idea to British ingredients like salt beef and wheat bread. He then started requesting this meal during his gambling events. His fellow gamblers soon began ordering the same, and the meal became known as “the Sandwich,” eventually just “sandwich.”

Other Sandwich Claims

While John Montagu claims to have invented the sandwich, the idea of putting cheese, meat, or vegetables in bread was not new.

For centuries, Greeks had been using pita pockets for cured meats and vegetables, while Arabic and Indian cuisines used naan to hold various dishes. Montagu likely saw these practices during his travels.

Even in the early 18th century, the concept was in use. Conquistadors in Mexico observed native people putting meat into corn tortillas, calling them “tacos,” named after the small hand-rolled sticks of dynamite used in Mexican mines.

Although Montagu’s idea of sliced bread with meat may have been original, or at least undocumented before him, the question of who invented the sandwich might come down to personal interpretation. We credit Montagu, not only because he popularized it, but because the name “sandwich” was literally in his title.

Next, explore the history of medieval food and learn about John Pemberton, the inventor of Coca Cola.

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