Pizza History

In our last post, we learned that this convenience food was first served up in 18th Century Naples. We found that the modern interpretation is similar to the original, but how did pizza gain notoriety and become such an American staple?

A Royal Endorsement
In 1889, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of the now unified Italy, visited Naples and ordered a variety of pizzas according to A Slice of History over at History.com. The Queen’s favorite was the “pizza mozzarella” with toppings of mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and basil. It’s unknown whether this pizza’s mimicry of the Italian flag influenced the Queen’s fondness, but, at that time, the combination of toppings was named “pizza Margherita.”

Prior to the Neapolitan pizza, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, had also consumed flatbreads with toppings, but none of these managed to become as popular. Perhaps it was a lack of royal endorsement, or, more likely, the time just wasn’t right.

American Expansion
In Ed Levine’s article A Slice of Heaven over at SeriousEats.com, we learn that by the dawn of the 20th Century, economic conditions would send millions of Italian workers to America in search of factory jobs and other opportunities. Along with these workers came the recipe for homemade pizza.

By 1905, Lombardi’s Pizza had opened in New York City. This first American pizzeria is still in operation today. By 1943, pizzerias had opened in other large U.S. cities, but the dish was still mostly thought of as a “poor person’s food eaten by Italians in the urban enclaves in which they had settled” as stated by Levine.

Levine reports that pizza, like many things, spread across America after World War II. Many GIs had been stationed in Italy and exposed to pizza. They returned to the States with a craving for this, at the time, exotic dish.

According to Levine, one War veteran named Ira Nevin used his oven repair experience to develop the Baker’s Pride gas-fired pizza oven. He marketed this device, which worked in concert with a Hobart Mixer, to would-be entrepreneurs, facilitating the spread of pizza outside the Italian community in America.

By 1960, Three major chains had been founded in the U.S. Pizza Hut started in 1958 when two brothers borrowed $600 from their mom to start their own pizzeria. Little Caesar’s was started by Mike and Marian Ilitch in 1959 when an injury ended Mike’s baseball career. Domino’s Pizza opened it’s doors in 1960, in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

These, and other, budget-oriented pizza chains seem to have given independent pizzerias quite a run for their money over the last half-century. In our area, we’ve noticed a resurgence of local pizzerias and, more recently, higher-end chains.

What’s your favorite pizzeria, and which of their pies is the best? Share in the comments.

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