Learn About the Real Life Inventor of Pizza

When was pizza invented? Who is responsible?

Pizza
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Ever wonder who invented pizza? Although people have been eating pizza-like foods for centuries, the food as we know it is less than 200 years old. And yet, from its roots in Italy, pizza has spread across the world and today is prepared dozens of different ways.

The Origins of Pizza

Food historians agree that pizza-like dishes (i.e. flatbreads with oils, spices, and other toppings) were eaten by many peoples in the Mediterranean, including the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. When writing a history of Rome in the third century BCE, Cato the Elder described pizza-like rounds of bread topped with olives and herbs. Virgil, writing 200 years later, described similar food in "The Aeneid," and archaeologists excavating the ruins of Pompeii have found kitchens and cooking tools where these foods were produced before the city was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 72 CE.

Royal Inspiration

By the mid-1800s, flatbreads topped with cheese and herbs were a common street food in Naples, Italy. In 1889, the Italian King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy visited the city. According to legend, the queen summoned Raffaele Esposito, owner of a restaurant called Pizzeria di Pietro e Basta Cosi, to bake some of these local treats.

Esposito allegedly created three variations, one of which was topped with mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes to represent the three colors of the Italian flag. It was this pizza that the queen liked best, and Esposito named it Pizza Margherita in her honor. The pizzeria still exists today, proudly displaying a letter of thanks from the queen, although some food historians question whether Esposito actually invented the kind of pizza he served to Queen Margherita.

True or not, pizza is an integral part of Naples' culinary history. In 2009, the European Union established standards for what can and cannot be labeled Neapolitan-style pizza. According to the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, an Italian trade group dedicated to preserving Naples' pizza heritage, a true Margherita pizza can only be topped with local San Marzano tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, buffalo mozzarella, and basil, and it must be baked in a wood-fired oven.

Pizza in America

Beginning in the late 19th century, large numbers of Italians began immigrating to the United States—and they brought their foods with them. Lombardi's, the first pizzeria in North America, was opened in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi on Spring Street in New York City's Little Italy neighborhood. You can still dine there today.

Pizza slowly spread through New York, New Jersey, and other areas with large Italian immigrant populations. Chicago's Pizzeria Uno, famous for its deep-dish pizzas, opened in 1943. But it wasn't until after World War II that pizza began to become popular with most Americans. Frozen pizza was invented in the 1950s by Minneapolis pizzeria owner Rose Totino; Pizza Hut opened its first restaurant in Wichita, Kansas in 1958; Little Ceasar's followed a year later, and Domino's in 1960.

Today, pizza is a big business in the U.S. and beyond. According to the trade magazine PMQ Pizza, the American pizza industry was worth a massive $45.73 billion in 2018. Worldwide, the market for this tasty food was $144.68 billion.

Pizza Trivia

Americans eat approximately 350 slices of pizza per second. Thirty-six percent of those pizza slices are pepperoni, making the cured meat the No. 1 choice of pizza toppings in the United States. In India, pickled ginger, minced mutton, and paneer cheese are the favorite toppings for pizza slices. In Japan, Mayo Jaga (a combination of mayonnaise, potato, and bacon), eel, and squid are the favorites. Green peas rock Brazilian pizza shops, and Russians love red herring pizza.

Have you ever wondered who invented the circular piece of plastic that keeps the pizza from hitting the inside of the box top? The package saver for pizza and cakes was invented by Carmela Vitale of Dix Hills, New York, who filed for US patent No. 4,498,586 on February 10, 1983.

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