Who Invented Pizza - The History of 'Za

Did you know next month, on May 15th is National Pizza Party Day? That's right! And as folks around the country open up a cardboard box to chow down on the perfect slice of saucy, cheesy goodness your mind might wander back, 'Who invented pizza? What genius thought this up!?' Wonder no more friends! This time on the Streets of New York blog we're doing a history lesson all about who invented pizza, how it's evolved, and more.

The History of 'Za

Ancient Origins

Pizza dates back thousands of years, believe it or not, tracing its roots back to the flatbreads with toppings that were popular with ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. But modern pizza, the flatbreads with tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings, was born along the western coast of Italy, in the city of Naples.


Naples too has a long history, dating back to 600 B.C. when the Greeks first settled it. Over time, Naples became a thriving city on the water. In the 18th and 19th century it was booming, with a population packed into a dense area, Naples was notorious for its masses of poor, working class people. Those people needed to eat! That meant inexpensive food, and since much of their lives were spent outdoors, it needed to be able to be eaten quickly.


Flatbreads sold by street vendors were then topped with tomatoes, cheese, garlic, anchovies, oil became the food of the time, available for every meal and easily affordable for all. And thus, pizza was born! That's right, even from the beginning people have been eating pizza for breakfast! (Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!)


When the King and Queen of Italy visited Naples in 1889, they tried an assortment of pizza from the city's local Pizzeria Brandi. Legend has it that the king and queen were bored with their high class French diets and wanted something new. They found their new favorite in a pizza called the pizza mozzarella. It was topped with white cheese, red tomatoes, and green basil - the pie took it's new name from the queen – Margherita pizza. Despite this royal validation, pizza would remain relatively unknown in Italy outside of Naples until the 1940s.


But elsewhere… across the ocean, pizza was booming.

Pizza in the New World

Immigrants from Naples were landing in America and coming for their new opportunities! The millions of Europeans immigrating at that time were taking on factory jobs and other labor, but with them came their favored dish, pizza! As the Neapolitans were cooking up pizzas for themselves, the taste of pizza spread and soon, in New York, Boston, Trenton, and more pizza shops began sprouting up, to the delight of everyone around!

One of the earliest pizzerias in the U.S. was opened in Manhattan,  Lombardi's, named for its owner Gennaro Lombardi. As of today, 116 years(!) later, Lombardi's is still selling up slices from that same oven! While they moved locations, they took the oven with them.

From then it was only a matter of time as pizza raced across the nation, spreading with Italian-Americas across the United States. After World War II pizza took off in the U.S., no longer thought of as an ethnic food, it became a part of American food culture. New regional variants developed in the Midwest, in the South, and of course the New York-style pizza was defined.

When pizza finally took over America, it became just another American culture export to the rest of the world, like Coca-Cola and Elvis other countries started eating pizza because it was American. The rest of Italy finally got the big idea too!

So, who invented pizza? The ancient people living around the Mediterranean made the first step by eating all their flatbreads with toppings. Then the people of Naples took it and created pizza as we understand it today.

We're doing our part in spreading the Good Word of Pizza! Get your order in and celebrate your National Pizza Party Day with Streets of New York.