Hummel column: Saluting the Earl of Sandwich

Lynn Hummel column mug
Lynn Hummel

I had just taken my first bite of the sandwich. It was toasted with mayo, a slice of American cheese, a slice of Dubuque ham with French’s mustard, Reese horseradish and lettuce.

It was wonderful. My tastebuds were standing up and cheering. I had just created a masterpiece.

“I wonder who was the genius who invented sandwiches” I asked myself. But I had to finish that marvelous ham delight before I did my research.

The research shows that there is a town in the Kent District of England named Sandwich.

An earl is a sort of nobleman, an honorary position lower than a duke. The Fourth Earl of Sandwich was John Montagu who liked to pass his time at the gambling table. As a matter of fact, he had a gambling problem. He spent long hours at the tables and didn’t like to get up and eat. During one long binge in 1762, he asked the house cook to bring him something that he could eat without leaving the table. The cook (nobody ever bothered to get his name – he was the real inventor) brought him a slice of meat between slices of bread. The Earl enjoyed it so much that he ate it regularly and the combination became known as a sandwich.


Brilliant invention, it became popular in London, but it was never patented.

The combination didn’t catch on in America for a long time – but two variations of the invention were developed here. In New Orleans, during the Great Depression, a sandwich shop had a shrimp sandwich they would give free to the occasional beggar who came by. As the practice became known, the folks at the shop would see a beggar approaching and say, “here comes another po-boy.” That’s why that shrimp sandwich is now called the po-boy.

No patent on the po-boy either.

In Omaha between 1920 and 1925, Reuben Kulakofsky and his pals called, “The Committee” met for poker weekly at the Black Stone Hotel. They, like the Earl of Sandwich, didn’t care to leave the game to eat, so they encouraged the Hotel owner, Charles Schimmel, also a member of The Committee, to come up with something unusual. Schimmel came up with a sandwich of corned beef, swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing on rye bread. The

sandwich was known as the reuben sandwich. It was a big hit. It won a national recipe prize.

Again, no patent.

Of course, the list is long of patented inventions. Early in the Industrial Revolution, the steam engine was called one of the greatest inventions of all time. The Morse telegraph, the Edison incandescent light bulb, the Bell telephone, and the Eli Whitney cotton gin, were all key inventions in American history and the development of the West. But America wouldn’t be the great country that it is, without the unpatented inventions we all enjoy every day.

Back to sandwiches. One bit of advice on sandwiches. If you want a sandwich nobody will ask for a bite of, make yourself a tongue sandwich. Finger licking good.


Though we salute the Fourth Earl of Sandwich today for his “invention,” the gamblers in Sandwich and Omaha and the beggars in New Orleans all knew what they were getting – they weren’t gambling on the contents. There is one other unpatented and wildly enjoyed invention that probably exceeds all others in use and appreciation: leftovers – probably invented by Eve and first enjoyed by Adam.

What To Read Next
Get Local