Pizza, American Style

brown and white stone fragment

Today, December 6, the Google Doodle is celebrating pizza. It was on this day in 2007 when the Neapolitan art of the pizzaiuolo was inscribed as an intangible heritage on Italy’s UNESCO list.

What does that have to do with travel in the USA? Well, Ed Levine, author of Pizza: A Slice of Heaven, explains that the United States, particularly American GIs after World War II, helped to spread the popularity of pizza beyond the Italian peninsula. Here’s a short excerpt from his book on the early origins of pizza in the USA:

In 1905, Gennaro Lombardi applied to the New York City government for the first license to make and sell pizza in this country, at his grocery store on Spring Street in what was then a thriving Italian-American neighborhood. In 1912, Joe’s Tomato Pies opened in Trenton, New Jersey. Twelve years later, Anthony (Totonno) Pero left Lombardi’s to open Totonno’s in Coney Island. A year later, in 1925, Frank Pepe opened his eponymous pizzeria in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1929, John Sasso left Lombardi’s to open John’s Pizza in Greenwich Village. The thirties saw pizza spread to Boston (Santarpio’s in 1933) and San Francisco with the opening of Tommaso’s (1934), followed shortly thereafter with additional openings in New Jersey (Sciortino’s in Perth Amboy in 1934 and the Reservoir Tavern in Boonton in 1936). In 1943, Chicago pizza was born when Ike Sewell opened Uno’s. What did New York, New Haven, Boston, and Trenton have in common? Factory work available to poorly educated southern Italian immigrants. Pizza at this point was very much an ethnic, poor person’s food eaten by Italians in the urban enclaves in which they had settled.

The mainstreaming of pizza into American life began after World War II, when American GIs stationed in Italy returned home with a hankering for the pizza they had discovered overseas. In 1945, one of these returning soldiers, Ira Nevin, combined his eating experiences during the war with the know-how he had gained repairing ovens for his father’s business to build the first gas-fired Bakers Pride pizza oven. These pizza ovens allowed retailers to bake pizzas quickly, cleanly, efficiently, and cheaply. Armed with a little knowledge, a Bakers Pride oven, and a by-then ubiquitous Hobart Mixer, aspiring pie men were ready to go into business.

Pizza: A Slice of Heaven: The Ultimate Pizza Guide and Companion by Ed Levine

There are a ton of great books about pizza in the USA, from the history of New York- and Chicago-style pizzas to cookbooks to travel guides. Here are a few that we like:

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Pizza Tours and Visit

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