Pizza is not the kind of food who’s history can be easily traced and even though the Italians proudly lay claim to having invented the pizza, it’s historical origins remain largely debatable, with many nations and people having played a part.
In Sardinia, French and Italian archeologists have found a kind of bread baked over 7,000 years ago. The ancient Greeks had a flat bread called Plakous, which was flavored with toppings like herbs, onion and garlic. Other European settlers baked flats of bread like plates where toppings were applied and eaten off of the plate (the bread), which was then eaten as well.
The history of Pizza can be traced back through many centuries and times where many peoples have taken credit for this culinary delight that is enjoyed today all over the world but did THEY really INVENT pizza? Hardly!
Because the stories and theories are so far reaching, for the purposes of this article, we will concentrate on the more recent explanation to the history of Pizza in the United States.
Pizza first made its appearance in the United States with the arrival of Italian immigrants in the late 19th century. This was certainly the case in cities with large Italian populations, such as, New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia where pizza was first sold on the streets of Italian neighborhoods. In the late 19th century, for example, pizza was introduced by peddlers who walked up and down the streets with a metal washtub of pizzas on their heads, selling their wares at two cents a chew. This was the way pizza used to be sold in Naples, in copper cylindrical drums with false bottoms that were packed with charcoal from the oven to keep the pizzas hot. It was not long until small cafes and groceries began offering pizzas to their Italian-American communities.
The first printed reference to "pizza" served in the US is a 1904 article in the Boston Journal. The first pizzeria in America was founded by Gennaro Lombardi in Little Italy, Manhatten, and the large, wide pizzas made in the city would become known as the new York-style. Gennaro Lombardi opened a grocery store in 1897 which was later established as the first pizzeria in America in 1905 with New York’s issuance of the mercantile license. An employee of his, Antonio Totonno Pero, began making pizza for the store to sell that same year. The price for a pizza was five cents but, since many people could not afford the cost of a whole pie, they would instead say how much they could pay and they were given a slice corresponding to the amount offered. In 1924, Totonno left Lombardi’s to open his own pizzeria on Coney Island called Totonno’s. While the original Lombardi's closed its doors in 1984, it was reopened in 1994 just down the street and is run by Lombardi's grandson.
Pizza was brought to the Trenton area of New Jersey very early as well, with Joe's Tomato Pies opening in 1910, followed soon by Papa's Tomato Pies in 1912. In 1936, De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies was opened. While Joe's Tomato Pies has closed, both Papa's and Delorenzo's have been run by the same families since their openings and remain among the most popular pizzas in the area. Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven, Connecticut, was another early pizzeria which opened in 1925 (after the owner served pies from local carts and bakeries for 20–25 years) and is famous for its New Haven style Clam Pie. Frank Pepe's nephew Sal Consiglio opened a competing store, Sally’s Apizza, on the other end of the block, in 1938. Both establishments are still run by descendants of the original family. When Sal died, over 2,000 people attended his wake, and the New York Times ran a half-page memoriam. The D'Amore family introduced pizza to Los Angeles in 1939.
Before the 1940s, pizza consumption was limited mostly to Italian immigrants and their descendants. The international breakthrough came after World War II. Allied troops occupying Italy, weary of their rations, were constantly on the lookout for good food. They discovered the pizzeria, and local bakers were hard-pressed to satisfy the demand from the soldiers. The American troops involved in the Italian campaign took their appreciation for the dish back home, touted by "veterans ranging from the lowliest private to Dwight D Eisenhower."
Ric Riccardo pioneered what became known as the “Chicago-Style” Deep Dish pizza when, in 1943, he and Ike Sewell opened Pizzeria Uno in Chicago. In 1948, the first commercial pizza-pie mix — ‘Roman Pizza Mix‘ — was produced in Worchester, Mass, by Frank A. Fiorillo.
All of this history of a staple of the American diet has brought us to the point we are at today. Pizzeria’s are spread all over the United States but the most successful pizzerias with the tastiest pizza pies are the ones that use only the freshest tomatoes, cheeses and ingredients. Most of us take Pizza for granted but many of us never stop to think about the history of what we are putting into our mouths and bodies. Hopefully this article will put the history of the Pizza pie on the forefront as you enjoy that next delicious slice!
For more pizza information, Please see the Pizza Blog Here