On this day in 1718, British statesman and fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, best known as the inventor of the modern sandwich, was born.
The son of the esteemed Edward Montagu, Viscount of Hinchingbrooke, Montagu was named the fourth Earl of Sandwich at the tender age of ten, when his father died, and was groomed as an elite member of British society. He attended the illustrious Eton and Trinity Colleges in Cambridge, went on a grand tour of Europe, parts of the Ottoman Empire, and East Asian lands, then took a seat in the House of Lords under one of the wealthiest and most powerful politicians of his time, the Duke of Bedford. The Earl of Sandwich went on to assume a number of military and political offices during his career, including Postmaster General, First Lord of the Admiralty, and Secretary of State for the Northern Department.
But Montagu is perhaps best known for stumbling upon a now beloved culinary invention. According to legend, Montagu was an avid gambler who spent excessive amounts of time at the gambling table. He hated to interrupt his time at the card table for meals, so around 1762, Montagu began asking his servants to bring him slices of meat tucked between two slices of bread, allowing him to eat and play simultaneously. Montagu loved this new invention, because it allowed him to play cribbage, eat with his bare hands, and not get his playing cards greasy from his meal. His gambling friends took note of Montagu’s habit and began ordering “”the same as Sandwich.””
(An alternate story claims Montagu’s heavy work schedule with the navy and politics had him ordering sandwiches from his desk, so he could work and eat.)
Probably due to its origins, the sandwich was initially thought of as a late-night meal men snacked on while gaming and drinking, though it quickly became popular among the European aristocracy. The sandwich’s popularity skyrocketed during the 19th century when the European Industrial Revolution and the rise of the working class necessitated quick, portable, and affordable meals. The sandwich made its way across the Atlantic Ocean in the US as an elaborate supper, then became increasingly accessible for all as sliced bread became an American staple. Today, sandwiches are enjoyed across the world in infinite iterations, from the Middle Eastern shawarma to the Italian Panini to the Vietnamese Banh Mi to the American sloppy Joe.
Credit: Alamy AHFXT6
Caption: John Montagu was known for his excessive gambling, and for eating what became known as “the sandwich.”