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Celebrate National Pizza Day With Great Pizza History

By on Thursday, February 9th, 2023 at 5:45 pm | 943 views

A cheese pie from best pizza

February 9 is National pizza day. Don’t worry if you thought this was in October, which is National Pizza Month. Today is dedicated to pizzas of all sorts — so don’t confuse today with September 5, dedicated to National Cheese Pizza Day, September 20 for Pepperoni Pizza, and October 11 for Sausage pizza. Apparently, the nation loves pizza.

The first pizzas as we think of them today were created in 19th century Naples in working class neighborhoods. Popular styles included fried pizza, although these were more expensive because heating oil all day cost a lot of fuel. There were also pizza sellers who would travel the streets selling pre-made pizza known as pizzeria ambulante. And Neapolitans also had folded pizza, known as Calzone.

Outside of Naples, nobody knew what a pizza was until the 20th century. Other regions of Italy had flat breads, but none topped with sauce and cheese.

When Italian immigrants arrived in America, they too had a craving for pizza. Lombardi’s in New York City is credited with selling the first pizzas in America, and pizzaiolo who worked there opened other early pizzerias John’s, Patsy’s, and Totonno’s.

Joe Papa’s was launched soon after in Trenton, New Jersey selling Trenton tomato pies. In 1925, Frank Pepe began selling New Haven style “apizzas”. Patsy’s in Paterson, New Jersey was selling pies to factory workers in the fabric and clothing district by 1931.

Italian Americans also invented pepperoni which quickly began a popular topping for pizza.

New York style pizzas in early American pizzas along the east coast were typically baked in bread ovens rather than dedicated Neapolitan style pizza ovens. The meant the ovens were bigger, and the pies were bigger too.

The real innovations came in the post World War II era. Ira Nevin, an engineer in the army, invented a new type of oven. He descended from brick layers who knew a thing or two about ovens. The big innovation was inventing a gas-fired pizza oven. Before Nevin, most pizzas ovens were fueled by coal or wood, meaning they were difficult to maintain and keep hot. Nevin’s oven were hot within minutes with gas supplied straight from the street.

The gas oven made pizza more accessible and non-Italians began eating regularly. Take out food became a popular choice. Other marketing efforts led to new products like English Muffin Pizza.

Gas ovens allowed fast food pizzerias like Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and Papa John’s to spread quickly across the midwest. These pizzerias developed new innovations like stuffed crust and stuffed pizza.

During the Tiki craze of the 1960s, a Canadian invented Hawaiian pizza.

Other innovations included frozen pizzas. Chef Boyardee actually sold pizza kits with dough, sauce, and cheese, but the with innovation of grocery store freezers, pre-cooked pizzas that were heated in the oven became an easy convenience food. That led to things like including French Bread Pizza and Bagel pizza. Other products included various >frozen foods like Toasterinos.

Pizza slices started getting bigger as the 20th century progressed. New York style pizza was typically an 18 inch diameter pie with a 9 inch slice. But that didn’t stop some pizzerias from pushing how big the largest Pizza in America could be. They actually pushed the limit, and the 36 inch pizza is no longer available.

It’s all come back around though. By the 2000s, Neapolitan style pizza was booming with new luxury brands launching. A new renaissance of gourmet pizza was sprung up in Brooklyn with places like Roberta’s, Motorino, Ops, Fornino, and others.

Pizza Styles

Bagel pizza
French Bread Pizza
English Muffin Pizza
Hawaiian Pizza
Largest Pizza in America