A Classic No Matter How You Slice It: The Sandwich

A staple lunchbox food, picnic addition, or food on the go, the sandwich is so ubiquitous these days that we might eat or make one without ever stopping to wonder about the history of this versatile dish. With August as National Sandwich Month, the IDHH would like to highlight this humble entrée and the many ways it’s permeated our everyday culture. While something resembling the sandwich has most likely existed since the consumption of meat and bread began, legend has it that John Montagu, 4th earl of Sandwich, once dined on sliced meat and bread while playing at a gaming table so that he could continue to play as he ate. Indeed, the name was adopted in the 18th century for the earl, but probably due to his requests for the dish in London society or perhaps from a penchant of his to eat sandwiches while working at his desk. Regardless, Montagu’s social status lent the food credibility, and the sandwich soon became fashionable fare on the European continent. 

The food item’s simplicity and versatility allow it to be a suitable choice in a variety of environments. Just as welcome in the lunchbox of an elementary school student as a busy professional, the sandwich can be arrayed in a myriad of ways, dressed up for foodies or made as plainly as possible. The World War II poster featuring the character “Jenny on the job” illustrates how the sandwich was used as part of an appeal to a sense of manliness and competence for female workers stepping into roles traditionally filled by men, who were overseas fighting in the war. As versatile as the food itself, the word “sandwich” may also refer to non-food items as well, such as the town of Sandwich, Illinois, the Sandwich Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, or the sandwich mathematical theorem. 

Have are a few of our favorite sandwich-related items from the collection:

A nurse prepares a tall tower of sandwiches at a table. Stacks of ready sandwiches are on the table as well.
Nurse Making Sandwiches, Fort Sheridan. circa 1920. Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County. Fort Sheridan. Courtesy of the Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County.
A two-story brick building façade. It includes tall white pillars near the entrance with steps leading up to the front doors.
Sandwich Public Library, Sandwich, Illinois. n.d. Eastern Illinois University. Booth Library Postcard Collection. Courtesy of Eastern Illinois University.
Black and red geological survey map for the area of Sandwich, Illinois. Illustrates physical topography of the area.
Sandwich quadrangle, Illinois: 15 minute series. 1950. Created by U.S. Geological Survey. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. Historical Maps Online. Courtesy of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library.
Woman holding a sandwich while sitting on the ground. Food and a picnic blanket are around her.
Warnecke friend holds a sandwich at a picnic, circa 1910s. circa 1910s. Bensenville Community Public Library. Bensenville Historical Collection. Courtesy of Bensenville Community Public Library.
Poster of a woman in a work uniform eating a lunch at a table. The lunch consists of a sandwich, fruits, veggies, and milk.
Jenny on the job eats man size meals. 1943. Created by Kula Robbins, for the U.S. Public Health Service. Illinois State University. Propaganda on All Fronts – United States & International World War II Era Posters. Courtesy of Illinois State University.
A crowd of children surround a very large square ham sandwich as two adults offer cut sections from the sandwich.
Children feasting on the world’s largest ham sandwich. 1933 – 1934. Photographed by Kaufmann & Fabry Co. University of Illinois Chicago. Century of Progress World’s Fair, 1933-1934. Courtesy of the University of Illinois Chicago.

Want to see more? 

View even more items related to sandwiches on the IDHH.

World Cat Day

Happy World Cat Day! Also called International Cat Day, the holiday was first established by the International Fund for Animal Welfare in 2002. However, national holidays celebrating our feline friends have observed in countries around the world for decades. To celebrate, the IDHH spotlights items from Illinois State University’s collections.

First, behold the artwork of talented youngsters who loved their cats enough to immortalize them in pencil and watercolors. The paintings below are from the International Collection of Child Art and were created by children ages 8 through 13 from Colombia, Wales, and the U.S. The children’s attention to detail show how dear their furry friends were.

Next, here are toys from Japan featured from the Ethnology Teaching Collection, including a papier-mâché cat in a basket and the famous good luck charm of the waving cat, or ‘Maneki-Neko’. These figurines were placed in shop windows, inviting customers in and waving good-bye on their way out.

See all items in the IDHH related to cats.

Happy Father’s Day

The IDHH celebrates Father’s Day by highlighting families of performers from Illinois State University’s Passion for Circus collection. Captured by photographer, Sverre “Bex” Braathen, the photographs are from a collection of nearly 10,000 that includes thousands of black and white photographs from the 1930s and thousands more color photos from the 1940s and 1950s from circuses all around the United States.

Below is a selection of several father-daughter and father-son acts, Alfred, Sr. and Alfred, Jr. Burton from the Ringling Barnum Circus, the Naitto family, Ala and his daughters, Nio and Margie, also of Ringling, and Ernest and Ernestine Clarke of the Tom Mix Circus. The Burtons performed balancing acts on high pedestals. The Naittos were high wire and tightrope performers. The Clarkes performed floor routines. Ernest was famous as a somersaulting leaper in his own Clarkonian Flying act of the Ringling Brothers circus.

Finally, several images capture Astrid and Ernst “Franklin” Schlichting of the Ringling Barnum Circus. Astrid, thirteen years old, performs hand balancing routines with her father, acts that require tremendous strength and concentration.

For more Father’s Day-themed items, take a look at all items among Illinois State University’s collections, including from the International Collection of Children’s Art.