Food historians generally agree with the modern American sub, hero, wedge, hoagie, grinder, Po'Boy, Rich Girl, gondola, torpedo, zepplin..and their heated cousins Philly cheesesteak & Chicago Italian beef are regional variations on the same culinary theme. Vietnamese Banh Mi are the current trend. This overstuffed meat, cheese and vegetable oblong-shaped foods nestled between thick Italian or chewy French bread were recipes built on local culinary traditions and ethnic preference. Six-foot sandwiches surface in New York City, circa the 1950s.
Old-world filled bread (calzones, empanadas, pasties, &c.) were introduced to America in the 19th century by immigrant labourers. The classic "Sub" (salami, cheese, peppers, olives, oil) was introduced to America by immigrants from Southern Italy in the early part of the 20th century. The progenitor of the sub was probably the muffuletta. After World War II Italian food gained popularity with mainstream America. Over time, the sub assimilated. This accounts for the use of other meats (turkey, roast beef), cheese (American, Swiss), vegetables (lettuce, tomato) and spreads (mayonnaise, mustard).
What's in a name?
"The submarine is a noble edifice built of meats, cheeses, fish--preserved and pickled--and fresh vegetables and greens, all stuffed into a whole long loaf of bread and laved generously with oil herb-flecked vinegar and other delicious lubricants. It is the king of all sandwiches, and its kingdom is growing. Facts about it are hard to pin down...I have seen and eaten subs in New England, in the South and in California. A restauranteur...Peter Palazzolo...recently estimated that there are between 3000 and 4000 places in the East and Midwest where subs may be bought. The shops I have visited...sell anywhere from 200 to 1000 a day, ranging in price from twenty-five cents to a dollar...In its simplest form, the sub is made of two or three ingredients. In its most imaginative, inspiring and maddening form, it can contain as many as thirty, and more. The word "submarine: or its diminutive "sub" may be used for both the simple and elaborate sandwich. The origin of the word is self-evident--the long loaf does roughly resemble an underwater craft. It also looks like an over-earth Zeppelin...Indeed, there are as many names as there are ingredients in a good-sized submarine. The names have no particular local significance. One could suppose that submarines would be called submarines in New London, Connecticut, where the Navy has a submarine base. Up there they are called grinders. This might be due to the workout one's teeth get while consuming a grinder. Next to the submarine, the most common name is the hero or Italian hero. There are two plausible explanations. One is the heroic size of the sandwich. The other is the heroic appetite required to finish one. Another oft-used name is Hoagie...It can be stated with certainty that the name does not derive from that of Hoagy Carmichael, composer of Stardust. That is about all I know. Jess Stien, the managing editor of the American College Dictionary, confessed to me that he did not know the etymology. Neither did an editor of Fountain and Fast Food Service, a quick-lunch trade journal. My own guess, for what it is worth--about the price of an inexpensive hoagie--, is that the word originally was hoggie, or hoggy--used derisively by people who confused hearty appetites with gluttony...Gourmet magazine, regarded by many as a final authority on food, calls the sandwich the poor boy or po'boy; so do many Southerners...The original poor boy did originate there, but the sub did not...Last summer Gourmet published three poor boy-flute variations...the first encounter with the submarine occurred in 1946, when I was recently discharged from the Army and living...in New York's Greenwich Village...The mainstay of my diet was pizza...until I found out about the sandwich...Down the street from my apartment was a grocery store operated by the Scarsi Brothers, who came from the Piedmont section of Italy...One day as I was entering I nearly collided with a man coming out...He was eating the biggest sandwich I'd ever seen. I asked one of the Scarsi brothers if he had made that sandwich, and he said proudly he had. 'Would you like to make me one?' I asked eagerly...Mr. Scarsi took up a loaf a thick as his husky wrist and as long as his forearm and sliced t lengthwise nearly through. He spread both sides generously with good stiff mustard. Then he took tissue-thin slices of prosciutto ...and covered one side of the sandwich. On the other, he placed thick slices of provolone, a smoky Italian cheese which is best when it is aged...Now he was piling on Cappo collo, a highly spiced pork shoulder cut, also sliced thin, He followed that with lettuce leaves, crushed green and black olives, and a portion of the curd cheese called ricotta. Finally, he put on two kinds of salami. When he put the sandwich together it was three inches thick. I was sure it would cost more than the dollar I was limited to daily...'Thirty cents,' he said...after my first bite, into another world, for there are few sensations comparable to the slow, ecstatic contentment that spreads over a man when first he begins to work on a sub...Mrs. Nina Manganaro, who with her brother, Louis began operating a store around 1919. Her cousin, Ernest Petrucci, had established it in 1885 and the Manganaros had come from Naples, and so, said Mrs. Manganaro, had the submarine."
---"The Noblest Sandwich of the All," Richard Gehman, Saturday Evening Post, January 1, 1955 (p. 16+)
"Pizzerias may have been among the first Italian-American eateries, but even at the turn of the century distinctions were clear-cut as to what constituted a true ristorante. To be merely a pizzamaker was to be at the bottom of the culinary and social scale; so many pizzeria owners began offering other dishes, including the 'hero' sandwich (also, depending on the region of the United States, called a 'wedge,' a 'hoagie,' a 'sub,' or a 'grinder') made on an Italian loaf of bread with lots of salami, cheese, and peppers."
---America Eats Out, John Mariani [Morrow: New York] 1991 (p. 66)
"I happened to glance through a column that appeared in the New York Times ...in which Manganaro's, the famed food establishment at 492 Ninth Avenue in Manhattan, staked a claim to the original hero. That may be open to debate, but I was interested in that store's beginnings, which I had never read before. "In 1905...James Manganaro, who had been making whale-sized sandwiches of prosciutto and French bread to nourish himself on all-day fishing trips, came from Italy to New York to join his cousin in the grocery business. ..It was James Manganaro who branched into the sandwich business, making them the same way he liked a sandwich--big."
---Craig Claiborne's The New York Times Food Encyclopedia, Craig Claiborne [Times Books:New York] 1985 (p. 212)
"During World War II, the commissary of the United States Navy's submarine base in Groton, Connecticut, ordered five hundred hero sandwiches a day from Benedetto Capaldo's Italian deli in New London, where the name 'sub' was soon applied to the item."
---America Eats Out, John Mariani [Morrow: New York] 1991 (p. 114-5)
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first print reference for the word "submarine," as it applies to this sandwich, was published in 1955. That article makes no reference to Capaldo's. The earliest print reference we find stating the word "sub" dates to World War II is this:
"The good folks' of Groton have posted a sign, "You are Entering the Submarine Capital of the World," to eliminate confusion, because some people believe that New London, across the Thames River, is the sub-capital. And it is sort of. It's the capital of submarine sandwiches, being the birthplace of that wonderfully portable meal, introduced to the world by New London's own Benedetto Capaldo. What had originally been a "grinder" because of the way you had to chew to get through the Italian bread became a "sub" during World War II. By then the submarine base commissary was ordering almost 500 sandwiches a day, and Benny had to hire four helpers to stuff the submarine-shaped loaves with salami, tomatoes, cheese, and lettuce. When the sailors eventually left town, they took their discover with them. The Naval Sub Base, usually referred to as the "New London Sub Base," really is in Groton, which long ago was part of New London."
---"The Submarine Capitals of the World," Jamie Kageleiry, Yankee, March 1990 (p. 86) [NB: Local words are sometimes used many years before they hit national print.]
Notes from the Reference Librarians @New London (CT) Public Library confirm Capaldo's:
...searched our old city directories during the World War II time period and found that Benedetto Capaldo was a grocer and his store was located at 357 Bank Street from 1939 - 1943 and then later at 370 Bank Street (1944 - 1954). Presently, 357 Bank Street is a restaurant called Hot Rod Cafe. There are no current listings for 370 Bank Street. It appears that 1948 was the last year Benedetto Capaldo was listed in the city directory. Unfortunately, we don't have an index for the newspaper, so I won't be able to search the papers. ...looked through one of the books we have on the history of New London and found a little bit of information. This is from Reinventing New London by John Ruddy, " Legend has it that the New York Fruit Store on Shaw Street was the birthplace of the Italian grinder in the 1920s. Benedetto Capalbo (different spelling), the owner, was reputed to be the first in America to make the famous sandwich, known variously as the hero, hoagie, and sub. Fifty years later, a suggestion that the building belonged on the National Register of Historic Places was met with snickers, and it was torn down."
"...In the 1930s food writer, Clementine Paddleford [she was a food writer for the New York Herald Tribune newspaper] noted that the name derived from the hyperbole that one must be a hero to eat such a sandwich."
---Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 154)
"Wedge (for the shape of the sandwich, usually cut at an angle) is another common alternative for the hero..."
---Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 154)
"To the Editor: Your article ''In Hoagieland, They Accept No Substitutes'' (May 28) and the many names for a sandwich on hero bread brought to mind an experience I had in Brooklyn. I have lived in Yonkers all of my life, and we refer to the hero/hoagie/grinder/submarine as a wedge. When I went to a coffee shop in Brooklyn, they had a sign listing meatballs as a sandwich special of the day, and I ordered a meatball wedge and they hadn't a clue as to what I was talking about!"
---New York Times, Jun 4, 2003. pg. F.8
"Westchester: Wedge Sandwich
A regional sandwich name in Westchester (Yonkers) for the hero/sub/hoagie is "wedge." Again, I checked the telephone directories.
Yonkers, Mt. Vernon, Bronxville, Tuckahoe
CLASSIFIED TELEPHONE DIRECTORY
Corrected to January 3, 1958
"It is an article of faith here, though no one can prove it, that hoagies started in South Philadelphia and spread. The most prevalent explanation for the name is that they were the regular lunch fare of Italian-American workers from South Philadelphia in an old shipyard at Hog Island in the days before the area became the site of the city's airport. There, according to the tradition, the sandwiches were called hoggies, a word that was eventually corrupted. There are heretics who say the first hoagies were made in Chester, about 10 miles south of here, but that doesn't bother Antoinette Iannelli. ''I don't know anything about that,'' she said the other day. ''All I know is that I made the first hoagie in Philadelphia.'' In support of her claim, she has a sign above the door to her South Philadelphia lunch counter and grocery store, right under the name Emil's, reading ''home of the original hoagie.'' Mrs. Iannelli, a small, brisk woman who will be 73 years old this month, punctuated her words with vigorous stabs at her cash register, which she has commanded for decades, since Emil, her husband, decided to return to his native Italy. It was about 50 years ago, she said, that she and Mr. Iannelli moved here from Maine, looking for work. Finding none, they opened a fruit stand with a meat case on the side. One morning, she said, a young police officer came in saying he had had a fight with his wife and she had refused to pack his lunch. He asked Mrs. Iannelli to make him a sandwich. She cut a loaf of Italian bread in half, she said, packed it with meats, olives, onions, lettuce and tomatoes and mixed a sauce to keep it moist. ''Lo and behold,'' said Mrs. Iannelli, ''that was it. The next day that policeman was back saying 'Antoinette, fix me one of those sandwiches for the captain.' The day after that the whole street was lined with police cars.'' Soon, she said, she was sending hoagies all over South Philadelphia, and, when World War II started, out to the shipyard. Then she offered a mild heresy of her own. The idea did not come from this area at all, she said. ''I remembered seeing a sandwich like it made in Maine, by a woman from northern Italy, and she had seen them made over there,'' Mrs. Iannelli said."
---"ABOUT PHILIDELPHIA," William Robbins, New York Times, April 17, 1984, (p. A14)
"Settlers from Naples, Sicily, Calabria and Abruzzo poured into South Philadelphia in the 1880s and 1890s, and in the 1950's singers like Mario Lanza, Frankie Avalon, Fabian and Bobby Rydell sprang from these hard streets...According to those who have explored the murky recesses of local food history, hoagies owe their name to the Hog Island shipyard on the Delaware River. During the Depression, or so the story goes, construction workers there used to buy Italian sandwiches from a luncheonette operated by one Al DePalma, who called them ''hoggies.'' Time changed the name to hoagies. Hoagies are not fundamentally different from New York's heroes or Boston's grinders or Everytown's submarines. Call them what you like, but Philadelphia must eat more per capita than anyplace else, and in a city where almost everybody, including Wawa convenience stores, fills eight-inch-long bread rolls with cold cuts, South Philadelphia fills them better than anyone. The bread is the key to quality. So who better to make a great hoagie than a great bakery? That would be Sarcone's, a fixture on Ninth Street, which a few years ago opened a tiny deli a few doors away. Its Old Fashioned Italian (Gourmet) hoagie is a minor masterpiece. A roll with a crunchy seeded crust and a soft, yet densely chewy, the interior provides a solid base with plenty of absorptive power. Both are sorely needed after they pile on the prosciutto, coppa, spicy soppressata, provolone, oregano, tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, oil and vinegar."
---"In Hoagieland, They Accept No Substitutes," R. W. APPLE Jr.., New York Times, May 28, 2003, (p. F1)
"Phillufia, or Philly, which is what we kids called the city, was where the epicurean delight made with cold cuts, cheese, tomatoes, pickles, and onions stuffed into a long, hard-crusted Italian bread loaf was invented. The creation of that sandwich took place in tile Italian pushcart section of the city, known as Hog Island. Some linguists contend that it was but a short leap from Hog Island to hoagie. while others claim that the label hoagie arose because only a hog had the appetite or technique to eat one properly."
---"What Did You Say?," Richard Lederer, USA Today, July 2009, (p. 52)
Who invented the six-foot sandwich, where & when?
This oversized party food is attributed to the Manangaro family, whose Italian food shops were located on Ninth Avenue, New York City. References to the sandwich first surface in the mid-1950s. The original sandwich cost $28.50, weighed between 22 & 25 pounds, served between 40-50 people, and was presented on a board crafted for the purpose. Who was responsible for the invention? Therein lies the rub which caused a family feud of epic proportions. Two brothers, Sal and Jimmy Dell'O'rto (direct descendants of the original Manganaro proprietor) claim the honour. Another story credits an unnamed publicist hired to promote the family business.
"A Ninth Avenue sandwich shop is offering something different: a 25-pound 'Hero' sandwich six-feet long. Salvatore Dell'Orto said he made one for a customer who wanted something unusual. Since then four others have placed orders. The king-size, multi-ingredient sandwiches cost $28, are one-foot wide- and are delivered on a board."
---"Six-Foot Sandwich Built in New York," Christian Science Monitor, December 31, 1959 (p. 3)
"Perhaps the best-known purveyor of hero sandwiches and her fillings in New York...is Manganaro's, that vast and fantastic Italian emporium at 488 Ninth Avenue (near 38th Street). Manganaro's has, in fact, a six-foot hero that costs $28.50 and must be ordered a day in advance. The sandwich allegedly serves 30 to 40 adults."
---"Food: Hero Sandwich Traced Abroad," Craig Claiborne, New York Times, August 27, 1963 (p. 34)
Manganaro's on Ninth
"At least the Capulets and Montagues didn't have to share a name. Not so the descendants of a 19th-century Neapolitan who opened an Italian deli on Ninth Avenue 107 years ago. In high fairy-tale tradition, the business eventually passed to descendants: four brothers named Dell'Orto who, citing a difference in management style, divided it up between the oldest and youngest pairs. That was in 1961, and the family relations were never the same. Salvatore and Vincent, the older brothers, took over the original store, Manganaro's Grosseria Italiano, a prosperous business that sold groceries and had a small sandwich counter in the back. James and Mario, the younger brothers, got the business next door, a budding sandwich shop called Manganaro's Hero Boy. Both businesses were given the right to use the Manganaro name, but relations between them quickly soured. By the early 1960s, the two sides had stopped speaking, and since then a trail of litigation has kept the feud alive...The stores locked horns in court in the 1980s when Hero Boy sued the Grosseria for establishing a telephone line called 'Manangaro's Hero Party Hotline' that sold six food and party hero sandwiches. 'By doing that, he bummed into my business,' said James, asserting that in the 1960s and 1970s he spent considerable sums to promote his six-foot heroes, a sandwich he says Salvatore had hardly dabbled with until the 1980s. But Salvatore strongly disagrees. In fact, he said, 'We originated the six-foot sandwich.'"
---"Family Feud: Manganaro's Against Manganaro's," Tara Bahrampour, New York Times, May 14, 2000 (p. 34)
"The business itself originated in 1893 as Petrucci's Wines and Brandies, where groceries were sold as well. In the 1920s, James Manganaro, an immigrant from Naples, took it over and gave it his name. He did so well that in 1927 he bought the building at 488 Ninth Avenue...In 1955, the six-foot hero was brainstormed when the family and a publicity agent figured that a large hero sandwich would be a good marketing ploy. Dubbed Hero-Boy, the 22-pound extravaganza cost $28.50 in the 1960s (it costs $106 now). Back then, it won such renown that Sal and the sandwich wound up on the quiz show 'I've Got a Secret.' (They stumped the panel). In 1956, the family bought the vacant store next door, and sandwiches, including the six-foot hero, were made there as well...It didn't take long for customers to become confused, placing an order with one Manganaro store, confirming the order with another...How did the feud begin? 'Some checks for use were mistakenly sent next door, and he banked them and never told me about it, Sal said of his brother Jimmy...Jimmy's recollection is quite different."
---"A Family, A Feud and a Six-Foot Sandwich, Glenn Collins, New York Times, December 8, 2001 (p. A1)
Jimmy's side of the story:
"History of Manganaro's Hero Boy. It began on Ninth Avenue in New York City in the late 1800s. From there, a family tradition has evolved into one of the City's most talked-about places. There are not many restaurants that can boast on having a 'fifty' year plus background of serving some of the best food in the area and continuing on with the legacy that their family was so proud of. In 1956, with his mother Nina, James Dell'Orto operated the Italian Groceria known as Manganaro's. James decided to take this one step further and got the brilliant idea of doing a hero sandwich that would be the first of its kind and called it the Six Foot Hero Boy. It was an instant success and was the beginning of an Italian-style hero that could feed a party of thirty or forty people. The orders began coming in and Manganaro's Hero Boy began its exciting journey of becoming one of New York's finest eateries."
[NOTE: In December 2013, the Six-foot hero costs $345.00. It comes with a complete party pack including chips, salad & pasta.] ?
Manganaro's dissolved in 2011. Hero Boy survives in 2013. "Death of a Hero: Iconic Restaurant to Close", Josh Barbanel, Wall Street Journal, February 28. 2011.