10 Fast Facts About the History of Pizza

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••• Pizza margherita. flickr.com/I'm George

Pizza is one of the world's most popular dishes so it's no surprise that many claim to have created the world's first real pizza. Here are ten interesting facts about the history of pizza:

  • Foods similar to the pizza --- namely flatbreads and oven-baked breads with various toppings --- have been prepared since the Neolithic age and across almost every region of the world.
  • However, bakers in Naples prepared the first dish to be known as a "pizza" in the 1600s. This street food was sold to the poor Neapolitans who spent much of their time outside their one-room homes. These Neapolitans would purchase slices of pizza and eat it as they walked, which led contemporary Italian authors to call their eating habits "disgusting."
  •  In 1889, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita first visited a newly unified Italy and came through Naples. Legend has it that they grew bored of a constant diet of French haute cuisine and the queen asked for varieties of pizza to try. A baker named Raffaele Esposito of Da Pietro Pizzeria (now known as Pizzeria Brandi) invented a pizza with red tomato sauce, white mozzarella, and green basil, to reflect the colors of Italy's flag. Queen Margherita approved of this pizza and it soon became known as pizza margherita.
  • Though the Queen gave her royal blessing to the pizza, pizza did not become well known outside of Naples until the late 1800s, when Italians began migrating to the Americas and carrying their tastes and recipes with them.
  • In 1905, Gennaro Lombardi opened the first pizzeria in the United States, selling pizza at his street front shop in Manhattan, located in a booming Italian-American neighborhood. Lombardi's is still in operation today and, though it is no longer at its 1905 location, the restaurant has the same oven as it did in 1905.
  • By the 1930s, the pizza business boomed. Italian-Americans opened up pizzerias across Manhattan, New Jersey, and Boston. In 1943, Ike Sewell opened Uno's in Chicago, bringing forth Chicago-style pizza. However, despite its popularity, pizza was still primarily a poor working man's food.
  • After World War II, GIs returned home from Europe, wanting to taste the pizza they had so frequently eaten across seas. In 1945, Ira Nevin, a returning soldier, invented the Baker's Pride gas-fired pizza oven, which allowed retailers to inexpensively and easily bake pizza pies, without the fuss of charcoal or wood. Taverns and restaurants began selling more and more pizzas.
  • The real proliferation of pizzas occurred with the advent of the pizza chain. Pizza Hut opened in 1958, Little Caesar's opened in 1959, Domino's opened in 1960, and Papa John's opened in 1989, each with the idea that they would sell pizzas to the masses.
  • In 1957, Celentano's began marketing frozen pizzas and pizzas soon became the most popular of all frozen meals.
  • Today, the pizza business brings in an estimated $32 billion in revenue, with over 3 billion pizzas sold each year in the United States.