Word Origins: Earl of Sandwich John Montagu and Sandwiches Part 1

About the history and biography of John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich whose name is the origin for the word sandwich.

SANDWICH ('san(d)wich) n. A slice of bread covered with a filling (as of meat, cheese, fish, or various mixtures) which is usually covered with another slice of bread.

At 5 A.M. on August 6, 1762, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, looked up from the gaming table and decided that he was hungry. The earl, an inveterate gambler in the midst of one of his famous round-the-clock sessions, wouldn't dare leave his cards for a meal and ordered his man to bring him some cold, thick-sliced roast beef between 2 pieces of toasted bread. Thus the 1st sandwich as we know it today was born.

The Romans had a similar repast called offula before this and it is said that the refreshment was 1st invented when, in about 100 B.C., Hillel ate bitter herb and unleavened bread as part of the Jewish Passover meal, symbolizing man's triumph over life's ills. But the modern sandwich, certainly our most convenient quick lunch or snack and possibly our main source of nourishment in this frenetic age, definitely evolves from those mighty gambling sessions, some lasting 48 hours and more, in which the industrious earl passionately participated. Those few authorities who say that the earl was at the writing table, or out on a long day's hunt and not at any table at all, only dampen a good story and are probably not correct. At any rate, the sandwich was named for Lord Sandwich and within 8 years after the above date, the term was recorded by visiting Frenchman Pierre Grosley in his Londres as the term for such a snack.

Gambling was only one of John Montagu's lesser vices, but the earl has as many complimentary words honoring him as any politician, another example being the beautiful Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) that Capt. James Cook named after him because he headed the British Admiralty during the American Revolution and outfitted the great explorer's ships. Lord Sandwich deserves no such glory and wasn't accorded it in his own lifetime. Sandwich became an earl when only 11, was educated at all the right schools--Eton and Cambridge--but he did very little that was right. His administration as 1st lord of the Admiralty was notoriously mismanaged, many public charges were made against him for graft, bribery, and general incompetence--and the result of the American Revolution might have been different if he hadn't been on hand to sabotage the British Navy. Lord Howe, among many officers, refused to accept a command under Sandwich, but his unpopularity dates back long before the revolt of the Colonies. After a promising start in politics, his party fell from power and the bored earl dedicated himself to a life of lechery.

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