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Who Invented Pizza? Where Was Pizza Invented?

New-York style, Greek, Sicilian, thick crust, hand-tossed, or extra cheese? Everyone has their favorite pizza and unique stories to tell along with it. I like pepperoni with loads of hot sauce. 

Pizza cooking in a real home interior lifestyle.

I mean, it’s everybody’s go-to food for all occasions, or if you’re craving some cheesy-tomato-topped-flatbread on random days. With millions of pizzas sold daily, it’s no shock that it is a staple of American culture. 

But where did this famous dish come from? Although it has become what it is today, its history remains a mystery, even to most pizza experts. And as of today, no official record of pizza was ever heard of. 

According to Carol Helstosky, author of Pizza: A Global History, it was not a single discovered event in history, but rather several historical phases that little by little shaped pizza as we know it today. 

So let’s get started on our journey to uncovering the fascinating story of pizza!

Who Invented Pizza?

Italians are often given credit for creating modern pizza, but baked flatbread with toppings has many other predecessors in other cuisines.

slice of pizza with colosseum, gondola, and tower of pisa on it

People from various cultures have been making flatbread topped with savories back to antiquity. This was a simple, cheap, and tasty meal, especially for poor people who wanted to save time on their daily meals.

Ancient Greeks made flatbread, plakous, flavored with cheese, garlic, onions, and herbs. Pizza-like food is also mentioned in Virgil’s Aeneid. 

Folklore has it that Celaeno, queen of the Harpy, foretold that the Trojans would not find peace until they were compelled by hunger to eat their tables.

Later on, a meal was served to Aeneas and his men, which included round cakes (like pita bread) topped with cooked vegetables. It then dawned on them that these were the “tables” that Celaeno predicted.

pita with feta and olives

But the dish we know today closely resembled the “pizza” of the Neapolitans in the late 18th century. Here the poorest of the lowest class, lazzaroni, was the Italian pizza’s earliest enthusiast. 

Helstosky says the first pizzas were simple – flatbreads topped with readily available ingredients, such as tomatoes with anchovies and oregano (the marinara), and another topped with garlic and herbs (like a pizza bianca).

Why Is It Called Pizza?

Pizza, of course, as we all know, is an Italian word. Giuseppe Nocca, a food historian, says that the first written pizza record came from the town of Gaeta in 997 AD. 

Grilled pizza being sliced on rustic wood

Gaeta is about halfway between Naples and Rome. But it was in the early 1800s that the word first appeared in English.

However, in his Italian-English dictionary from 1598, John Florio said that pizza was “a small cake or wafer.” 

Some historians also coined the name origin to the Greek word pita (pita, with a root meaning “bran bread”) or the Langobardic word bizzo, which means “bite.”   

Regardless of where it came from, we can all agree that it means “delicious.”

Where Was Pizza Invented?

Taking Helstosky’s history of pizza into account, it began in 18th-century Naples.

neapolitan pizza by fire

Most pizza eaters were Naples’ poor, or lazzaroni, who were looking for a cheap but nutritious alternative as most couldn’t afford to buy macaroni or vermicelli all the time. 

Pizza played an essential component in Naples’s poverty. Most residents needed proper cooking equipment and relied on buying food on the streets.

The first pizzas were simple – flatbreads topped with readily available ingredients. The most basic consisted of only garlic, lard, and salt.

Traditional Neapolitan Pizza in pittsburgh

Others included grated caciocavallo (cheese from horse’s milk) and basil or cecenielli (anchovy-typed fishes in the larval stage). Others were topped with tomatoes, but no one knows when this was added. 

On the other hand, despite being a staple food for the poor, pizza has several Italian aristocratic fans. One of the most famous is King Umberto I and Queen Margherita’s visit to Naples in 1889.

Queen Margherita wanted to try local specialties, so she summoned pizza maker Raffaele Esposito.

He made three types of pizza: lard, caciocavallo, and basil; basil and cecenielli; tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. 

The queen was ecstatic upon tasting these dishes, especially the one with tomatoes, which was named pizza Margherita in her honor. 

When Did Pizza Come to America?

It is believed that pizza first arrived in America when Italian immigrants began to settle in the cities in the late 1800s.

Variety of NYC pizzas in a shop display, street food. Kitchen workers arranging the pizzas.

These immigrants brought their pizza recipes, which quickly spread throughout the country as more people moved to America. 

The first American pizzas were known to many as tomato pies, particularly among the Italian-American community.

tomato pie with no cheese

Tomato pies, unlike Neapolitan pizzas, have more ingredients, such as cheese, different toppings, and tomato sauce.

Even in the 21st century, tomato pies are still frequently found in the Northeastern United States, particularly in Italian bakeries in Central New York.

In 1905, the first-ever pizzeria opened its doors in New York City at 53 1/2 Spring Street. Gennaro Lombardi, a young and talented breadmaker from Italy, owned it. 

His business went very well up until the economic downturn in 1984, which resulted in its closure. It would take ten years before Jerry Lombardi and John Brecio opened Lombardi’s doors again. These days, it is now known as Little Italy.  

lombardi pizza sign

After Lambodi’s, other pizzerias followed suit. Some of these are Trenton, NJ, Tomato Pies (1910), O’Scugnizzo’s Pizzeria, formerly Eugeno Burlino (1914), and others. 

However, despite the multiple openings of pizzerias, pizza wasn’t famous in America yet.

Its popularity took a significant turn during industrialization in the 50s and 60s after World War II when American veterans developed a taste for Italian food, including pizza, which they sought out upon returning home after their stay in Naples. 

Businessmen like Tom Monaghan (Domino’s) and Frank Carney (Pizza Hut) saw this as a rising opportunity and started setting up national franchises emphasizing uniformity and efficiency across branch locations. 

Domino's Pizza

Fast-food pizza chains focused more on delivery and takeout rather than serving customers in their actual stores, like those of traditional and family-owned pizzerias.

Inventing New Types of Pizza

Pizza has evolved from its humble beginnings in Naples, Italy, to the popular meal it is today.

Fresh homemade caprese pizza

I made a summary of the different styles of pizza that have been made over the years, how they are made, and where they came from.

Pizza Marinara

Pizza marinara is a classic Italian pizza made with fresh tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and extra-virgin olive oil. It is believed to have been created in the early 1700s in Naples, Italy. 

Sliced Pizza with Mozzarella cheese

Today pizza marinara is still made in Naples according to its original recipe. It is usually prepared with a thin crust and topped with diced tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and extra-virgin olive oil.

The pizza is then cooked in a wood-fired oven until it has a nice golden brown color.

Pizza marinara has become popular worldwide due to its simple yet delicious ingredients and preparation method. 

Pizza Quattro Formaggi

This is an Italian dish that has been around since the 1700s. It is a pizza topped with four different types of cheese, usually mozzarella, gorgonzola, Parmesan, and Fontina.

quattro formaggi pizza

The creator of this pizza is unknown, but it was likely invented in Italy.

Pizza Quattro Formaggi is made by layering the four kinds of cheese on top of a thin crust and then baking it in an oven until the cheese melts and forms a bubbly golden crust.

The pizza is usually served with tomato sauce or pesto and can be enjoyed as an appetizer or main course. It has become popular worldwide due to its delicious flavor and ease of preparation.

Pizza Margherita

Pizza Margherita is another classic Italian pizza that has been around for centuries.

margherita pizza

It was created in 1889 by an Italian chef named Raffaele Esposito and is said to have been named after Queen Margherita of Savoy. 

The pizza is made with a simple combination of tomato, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil leaves and served with extra virgin olive oil.

This pizza has become a well-known dish worldwide, and its popularity keeps growing daily.

Chicago-Style Pizza

Chicago-style pizza, also known as Deep-dish pizza, originated in Chicago, Illinois.

chicago style pizza

It is characterized by a thick crust topped with cheese and tomato sauce. The original creator of Chicago-style pizza is unknown but has been around since the early 1900s.

Chicago-style pizza is made with dough stretched to the desired size, then topped with cheese and tomato sauce before baking in a deep dish pan.

The crust should be crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, while the toppings should be cooked through but not overly done.

Chicago-style pizza has become popular worldwide due to its unique flavor and texture.

It’s an excellent option for those looking for something different from traditional pizzas and can be customized to suit everyone’s tastes. Learn how to make a deep dish pizza at home if you can’t visit Chicago!

Hawaiian Pizza

Hawaiian pizza is a popular, but polarizing, pizza dish with origins in Canada. It is a combination of ham, pineapple, and mozzarella cheese.

hawaiian pizza with ham and pineapple

Sam Panopoulos created the dish in 1962 at the Satellite Restaurant in Chatham, Ontario.

Panopoulos initially experimented with different topping combinations to find the perfect flavor profile.

After much experimentation, he combined ham and pineapple; the rest was history! Hawaiian pizza has since become a favorite among pizzeria customers worldwide, but many people are against pineapple on pizza.

The traditional recipe for Hawaiian pizza involves layering tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, ham, and pineapple on top of a thin crust or deep-dish base.

The ingredients are then baked until golden brown and served hot. Hawaiian pizza can also be customized by adding extra toppings such as bacon or mushrooms for an even more flavorful experience.

Despite the murky history of who invented pizza, we can never deny that it has been an integral part of our history since ancient times. It was a staple food everyone could afford and enjoy.

The great thing about pizza, like burgers and pasta, is that there are no limitations on how it can be made. We can continue to develop new types of pizza for people all over the world to enjoy!

Pair your favorite pizza with a glass of wine!

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry. As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.