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1944 New York Times Article Explains What Pizza Is to New York, America, and the World


Rhone1998
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For your amusement, here's a New York Times from 1944 about a restaurant in Manhattan serving this exotic new thing called "pizza". The tone of the piece--clearly written for an audience totally unfamiliar with the concept--is fascinating, and goes to show just how far we've come I guess.

09/20/44 - "News of Food; Pizza, a Pie Popular in Southern Italy, is Offered Here for Home Consumption" by Jane Holt on query.nytimes.com

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For your amusement, here's a New York Times from 1944 about a restaurant in Manhattan serving this exotic new thing called "pizza". The tone of the piece--clearly written for an audience totally unfamiliar with the concept--is fascinating, and goes to show just how far we've come I guess.

09/20/44 - "News of Food; Pizza, a Pie Popular in Southern Italy, is Offered Here for Home Consumption" by Jane Holt on query.nytimes.com

This is during the height of WWII. Amazing: Even Fascism can't Trump pizza.

Jane Holt, whoever you are, you've just been saved for posterity - God love ya.

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This is during the height of WWII. Amazing: Even Fascism can't Trump pizza.

But bear in mind that Mussolini had been deposed in July of 1943, and the provisional government, under the titular leadership of the king, signed an armistice agreement with the Allies that September. Although there would still be a lot of fighting farther north in Italy, the Allies occupied Naples, the cradle of pizza, on October 1, 1943.

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The article, from 1944, appears to constitute the Times' first mention of pizza, but it was scooped by several decades by a 1903 article in the New York Tribune, discussed here. The main new thing offered by Luigino's, the subject of the article, may have been carry-out.   New York's (and no doubt America's) first pizzeria was Lombardi's, opened in 1905.  The oldest pizzeria in the US continuously operating in the same spot appears to be Papa's in Robbinsville NJ, established in 1912.  By 1944 there were many pizzeria's in NYC and around the east coast and even the midwest, including Pepe's and the Modern (formerly Washington Pizzeria) in New Haven.  So I think we can say the venerable Gray Lady was slow to pick this one up.

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But bear in mind that Mussolini had been deposed in July of 1943, and the provisional government, under the titular leadership of the king, signed an armistice agreement with the Allies that September. Although there would still be a lot of fighting farther north in Italy, the Allies occupied Naples, the cradle of pizza, on October 1, 1943.

The article, from 1944, appears to constitute the Times' first mention of pizza, but it was scooped by several decades by a 1903 article in the New York Tribune, discussed here. The main new thing offered by Luigino's, the subject of the article, may have been carry-out.   New York's (and no doubt America's) first pizzeria was Lombardi's, opened in 1905.  The oldest pizzeria in the US continuously operating in the same spot appears to be Papa's in Robbinsville NJ, established in 1912.  By 1944 there were many pizzeria's in NYC and around the east coast and even the midwest, including Pepe's and the Modern (formerly Washington Pizzeria) in New Haven.  So I think we can say the venerable Gray Lady was slow to pick this one up.

:wacko:

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The article, from 1944, appears to constitute the Times' first mention of pizza, but it was scooped by several decades by a 1903 article in the New York Tribune, discussed here. The main new thing offered by Luigino's, the subject of the article, may have been carry-out.   New York's (and no doubt America's) first pizzeria was Lombardi's, opened in 1905.  The oldest pizzeria in the US continuously operating in the same spot appears to be Papa's in Robbinsville NJ, established in 1912.  By 1944 there were many pizzeria's in NYC and around the east coast and even the midwest, including Pepe's and the Modern (formerly Washington Pizzeria) in New Haven.  So I think we can say the venerable Gray Lady was slow to pick this one up.

Happy to see that the Times news piece was significantly predated by a news piece about pizza from the early 1900's.  The '44 reference/story as a "first" or early indication simply didn't make sense to me.  I grew up in Northern NJ and by the early 60's I was aware of commercial roads and strips and quite simply pizza was everywhere, and everywhere in both NYC and the NY suburbs when I visited.  The percentage of Italian/American's in the greater NYC area is very significant and had been for a long time by the 60's....but things moved slowly in that time and before and it wouldn't have spread that quickly and in such quantity without an earlier start date.  In that place and by that time pizza was sort of like PB&J or apple pie.  It was ubiquitous.

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I remain skeptical of claims of the antiquity of pizza in the U.S. The 1903 Tribune article is solid evidence of something, but it's much more "how quaint and curious are the practices of these Italian folk" than anything to do with the history of pizza in America. Of all the references to commercial pizza establishments in the 1900s and 1910s that I find online, none seems to have any hard citations, although perhaps some of the sources behind paywalls that I'm unwilling to traverse may have. Yes, perhaps Lombardi's was in business in 1905, but where is the evidence that they were purveyors of anything we would recognize today as pizza, or even that they sold anything they themselves called pizza? Online, I can find only assertions.

The 1944 Times article certainly suggests that in that year pizza was a novelty to their readers, and these were New Yorkers, who would generally be exposed to new things from abroad before Americans in other parts of the country. I think it's pretty clear that pizza had not penetrated very far into American food culture before the mid-1940s.

As one of some antiquity myself, I can share two memories from my childhood. In 1959, in suburban Washington, when I would have been six years old, I remember a playmate declaring that he liked pizza, but hated pizza pie. (Or it may have been vice-versa.)  I have no idea what distinction he drew between them. In 1961, now eight, I was with my family in Naples, where we had a meal at what was claimed, by them, to be the Ur-source of pizza, and remember that everyone agreed that the pizza there was nothing like what we had in the States. I have no recollection of how it may have differed.

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I remain skeptical of claims of the antiquity of pizza in the U.S. The 1903 Tribune article is solid evidence of something, but it's much more "how quaint and curious are the practices of these Italian folk" than anything to do with the history of pizza in America. Of all the references to commercial pizza establishments in the 1900s and 1910s that I find online, none seems to have any hard citations, although perhaps some of the sources behind paywalls that I'm unwilling to traverse may have. Yes, perhaps Lombardi's was in business in 1905, but where is the evidence that they were purveyors of anything we would recognize today as pizza, or even that they sold anything they themselves called pizza? Online, I can find only assertions.

The 1944 Times article certainly suggests that in that year pizza was a novelty to their readers, and these were New Yorkers, who would generally be exposed to new things from abroad before Americans in other parts of the country. I think it's pretty clear that pizza had not penetrated very far into American food culture before the mid-1940s.

As one of some antiquity myself, I can share two memories from my childhood. In 1959, in suburban Washington, when I would have been six years old, I remember a playmate declaring that he liked pizza, but hated pizza pie. (Or it may have been vice-versa.)  I have no idea what distinction he drew between them. In 1961, now eight, I was with my family in Naples, where we had a meal at what was claimed, by them, to be the Ur-source of pizza, and remember that everyone agreed that the pizza there was nothing like what we had in the States. I have no recollection of how it may have differed.

You are certainly entitled to your skepticism -- as a fairly skeptical person myself I will defend skepticism to the death (and if you are skeptical of that last part, so be it :)).  My skepticism may have shown in my earlier exegesis (anti-exegisis?) on the subject of the "Great Flood."

I suppose it depends on what you consider to be a "hard citation."  How hard is hard, and how hard does one's citation need to be in this context?  Since the history profession has generally not accorded the same import to food and restaurants as to other branches of their scholarly pursuits, the hard documentary evidence readily available to contemporary pizza scholars, not to mention funding, is not as extensive as that available to those studying, say, the Battle of (insert you favorite battle here).  See the earlier discussion between Rocks and myself on the subject of the age of Killmeyer's Tavern in Staten Island.  In short, sometimes, realistically, if you wish to move forward you gotta go with what you got.

Two individuals who may come close to being what might be termed pizza scholars are Ed Levine who wrote "Pizza, A Slice of Heaven" (2005), and New Haven historian/architect Colin Caplan who is said to have an "extensively researched" book on pizza history coming out next year.  Levine (along with many others) cites Lombardi's as the oldest, having been established in 1905.  Caplan points to 20 pizzerias as the oldest in the US continuously operating in the same location, and those have start dates ranging from 1912 to 1936; presumably if there are 20 still operating continuously from that era, there were many more that have fallen by the wayside.

All that said, I would certainly agree that pizza did not leave its Italian enclaves and enter the mainstream until later.  When that occurred I don't know, but I too have personal memories.  I'm quite an antique myself, being a decade older than you, and I recall from the early 50's when I was around ten, my Mom would occasionally make "pizza" from some sort of kit she picked up at the local A&P in our small Indiana town.  That's pretty mainstream; needless to say, it was also pretty bad pizza.

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For me, simply based on the tone of the article, it's just very hard to believe that pizza was widely known to NYT readers at the time, unless you also believe that both the author and her editor were pretty much totally oblivious.  Now, the extent to which NYT readers in 1944 were different from the broader population of New York or the rest of the country at that time, I have no idea.

Also, given how quickly food became a mass produced and distributed commodity in the 1950s, I could see the country going from pizza being relatively unknown in 1944 to some version of it being available in a grocery store chain a decade or so later.

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According to this from King Arthur Flour, the first pizza recipe in an American-published cookbook appeared in 1936.  It was an Italian-themed cookbook with a title partly in Italian*.  Gourmet Magazine published its first pizza recipe in August 1945, based on a reader request.  KAF opines that pizza began to "come into its own" in America with the establishment of Pizzeria Uno in Chicago in 1943.

* Specialita Culinarie Italiane: 137 Tested Recipes of Famous Italian Foods -- page 48  click

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From Oldest Restaurants in the New York City Area:

Veniero's Paticceria and Caffe:  1894

http://venierospastry.com/about.html

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Totonno's

http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/totonno-pizzeria-napolitano/

Coal oven pizza in Coney Island.  A pizza classic.  Stays open until the dough runs out.  Serves by the whole pie only.  On the James Beard "America's Classics" list.

 

From Oldest Restaurants in the Philadelphia Area

1900 - Ralph's Italian Restaurant (America's oldest family-owned Italian restaurant, changed locations in 1915)

From Oldest Restaurants in the Washington, DC Area

1943*- Famous Luigi's

1943 - Matthew's Pizza

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You are certainly entitled to your skepticism -- as a fairly skeptical person myself I will defend skepticism to the death (and if you are skeptical of that last part, so be it :)).  My skepticism may have shown in my earlier exegesis (anti-exegisis?) on the subject of the "Great Flood."

I suppose it depends on what you consider to be a "hard citation."  How hard is hard, and how hard does one's citation need to be in this context?  Since the history profession has generally not accorded the same import to food and restaurants as to other branches of their scholarly pursuits, the hard documentary evidence readily available to contemporary pizza scholars, not to mention funding, is not as extensive as that available to those studying, say, the Battle of (insert you favorite battle here).  See the earlier discussion between Rocks and myself on the subject of the age of Killmeyer's Tavern in Staten Island.  In short, sometimes, realistically, if you wish to move forward you gotta go with what you got.

Two individuals who may come close to being what might be termed pizza scholars are Ed Levine who wrote "Pizza, A Slice of Heaven" (2005), and New Haven historian/architect Colin Caplan who is said to have an "extensively researched" book on pizza history coming out next year.  Levine (along with many others) cites Lombardi's as the oldest, having been established in 1905.  Caplan points to 20 pizzerias as the oldest in the US continuously operating in the same location, and those have start dates ranging from 1912 to 1936; presumably if there are 20 still operating continuously from that era, there were many more that have fallen by the wayside.

All that said, I would certainly agree that pizza did not leave its Italian enclaves and enter the mainstream until later.  When that occurred I don't know, but I too have personal memories.  I'm quite an antique myself, being a decade older than you, and I recall from the early 50's when I was around ten, my Mom would occasionally make "pizza" from some sort of kit she picked up at the local A&P in our small Indiana town.  That's pretty mainstream; needless to say, it was also pretty bad pizza.

JohnB's comments above are thoughtful, tactful, and between the above and a 2nd post, evidence of research.  Here are some other references to an earlier entry of pizza into the US than the 1940's:  A nationwide list, and info on older and still surviving pizza place in New Haven

I believe JohnB's reflection on the status of restaurant "history", and in a more general sense local small business "history" is accurate.  News about these entities rarely reaches large media sources such as the NYTimes, and there is virtually no scholarship on the topic.  Alternatively if one were to scour the archives of local libraries and local news in areas around the NY metro region one might find many old references to local businesses and pizza parlors from dates way before the '40's.  ....hm...a new pizza parlor in Smalltown, USA sometime in the '20's or 30's...who is going to find it worthwhile to report let alone read???   Maybe the Smalltown Gazette and Smalltown citizens...and nobody else.    (sometimes those archives make it into the interwebs and sometimes they don't!!!).

Back to my own experiences:  By the very beginning of the 1960's I was old enough to be aware of local commercial corridors (similar to Rte 7 in Va or Rockville Pike in Md).  Where I grew up in Northern NJ, there were pizza places EVERYWHERE.  Fads and trends and new food types didn't proliferate as quickly in those days as they do and spread now.  I believe pizza had an earlier start date in the US than the '40's and I think if we dig deep enough we'll find examples.

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Technical Correction Note (may safely be ignored by most readers):


Veniero's Paticceria and Caffe:  1894

http://venierospastry.com/about.html

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Totonno's

http://nymag.com/lis...ria-napolitano/

Coal oven pizza in Coney Island.  A pizza classic.  Stays open until the dough runs out.  Serves by the whole pie only.  On the James Beard "America's Classics" list.

That particular post from the Oldest NY thread has been corrrupted (we need to fix it). Venierio's is a pastry shop, not a pizzeria -- it's entry got concatenated with the entry for Totonno's (1922), which is indeed a pizzeria.  A considerable amount of information from that original and very lengthy post has disappeared.

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