History of Pizza: Who Invented It, and Where?

History of Pizza: Who Invented It, and Where?

Pizza may be America’s favorite food, but this cheesy treat didn’t start in the United States. Sure, it beat out steak, tacos, pasta, and hamburgers as the food most Americans would like to eat for the rest of their lives. But is pizza American? Or—in homage to its culinary and linguistic roots—is pizza Italian?

Plenty of cultures might like to claim it as their invention. But depending on how you define it, the origin of pizza goes back as far as ancient times. The doughy delight evolved from flatbread, which has been around since the ancient Greeks, Romans, Persians, and Egyptians. An early record of pizza’s historic predecessor comes from one of Rome’s greatest poets, Virgil. In his 19 BCE epic Aeneid, he writes of Trojan citizens fleeing their city’s destruction and landing in Latium, Italy, where they found themselves ravenous after their journey. Still hungry after their meal of mushrooms and herbs cooked on stale round loaves, the travelers also ate the serving cakes. The hero’s son Ascanius then declared, “See, we devour the plates on which we fed!”making pizza history.

The convenience of plating savory fare atop dough rounds may have first been announced by Ascanius, but pizza’s portability—and taste—have made it the late-night snack and sidewalk lunch of choice. So how did pizza become so popular? Read on.READERS EXCLUSIVE: Get 16 Free Meals + 3 Surprise Gifts + Free Shipping

Where Was Pizza Invented?

Where Was Pizza Invented?

Pizza wasn’t so much invented as it was evolved. Drawing inspiration from the traditional topped flatbreads of yore, pizza was first documented by name in 997 CE, in a text from southern Italy in which the son of a feudal lord pledges 12 pizzas to the local bishop as an annual homage.

The pizza we know today emerged in 18th-century Naples. The city was experiencing a surge of peasants from the countryside, and its economy couldn’t keep up with all the mouths to feed. The poverty-stricken folks, known as the lazzaroni, needed something cheap and easy to eat. One solution: pizzas from street vendors, who priced and sized slices according to a customer’s budget.

Sometimes the toppings were as simple as garlic and salt, but they could also include cheese, basil, and occasionally tomatoes. In fact, the origin of this topping dates to this time: At this point in pizza history, Europeans were suspicious of nightshades, which were introduced to the continent early in American colonization. The low demand for tomatoes led to low prices—perfect for hungry peasants. But tomatoes on pizza—and pizza itself—were about to come into their own.

Who Invented Pizza?

Who Invented Pizza?

In 1889, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy visited Naples. They had become bored with their steady diet of French haute cuisine (sigh), and they asked to taste some local specialties. Pizzeria Brandi chef Raffaele Esposito and his wife produced three pizzas for the royal couple. One featured tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, with the red, white, and green matching the colors of the Italian flag (though a description of this flavor can be found as early as 1866). Queen Margherita chose this one as her favorite, and it was named Pizza Margherita. The Queen was so fond of her namesake pie that she sent the pizzaiolo a thank-you letter, which can be seen at the restaurant to this day. (Her embrace of the peasants’ treat improved its status, though the dish didn’t become terribly popular in Italy until after World War II.)

Pizza Margherita remains on plenty of menus today. But the queen’s contribution to the origin of pizza goes beyond the margherita—today, cheese and some form of tomato are baseline toppings for most pies.

In What Year Did the World’s First Pizzeria Open?

In What Year Did the World’s First Pizzeria Open?

Pizzeria Brandi may have put pizza on the map, but the world’s first pizzeria was Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, established in 1738 as a stand for Naples peddlers. About a hundred years later, the spot expanded and added tables and chairs; eventually, they even earned a visit from King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, who came incognito to get a sense of the mood of his people (and, most likely, a slice topped with garlic and tomato sauce).

Acknowledging its eateries’ important role in the origin of pizza, Naples in 2004 passed a law about what constitutes a true Neapolitan pizzaIt must be round, produced with a specific type of yeast and flour, cooked in a wood-fired oven above 905 degrees Fahrenheit, and can include only the finest ingredients. The olive oil on the base must be poured in a spiral motion, and if grated cheese makes an appearance, it must be spread with a uniform motion of the hand.

How Did Pizza Become So Popular in the United States?

Pizza became popular in the New World thanks to the large wave of Italian immigrants who arrived between 1880 and 1920, bringing their skills and appetites with them. At the start, Italian Americans would make and sell the pizzas out of their homes. In 1905, the first pizzeria in the United States was established in New York City’s Little Italy—and it still exists today.

So, Is Pizza American?

In its origins, no. But the huge popularity of pizza has led to a number of regional variations, many of which have long crossed state boundaries.

New York-Style

New York-style pizza usually has sugar and olive oil in its crust. Unlike Neapolitan sauce, which is made of uncooked crushed tomatoes and salt, New York sauce is made of canned tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, sugar, and aromatics such as basil, oregano, and crushed red pepper. The cheese on a New York-style pizza is made from grated low-moisture mozzarella, as opposed to the fresh slices on a Neapolitan pie. The minerals in New York’s highly lauded tap water are also reputed to play a role in the flavorful taste of a city slice.

Deep Dish

Another major American pizza style—deep dish—originated in Chicago. It almost didn’t happen: The original plan was for two Chicago restaurateurs to open a Mexican spot. But when one of them got sick from an enchilada, the two decided to start a pizza restaurant instead. Though debate ensues over who actually invented deep dish pizza, the pair’s goal was to offer something that would stand out in their already pizza-heavy neighborhood of Chicago’s Little Italy.


Unlike its cousins, a Detroit-style pizza is rectangular. In 1946, a Detroit bar owner decided he wanted to offer something new. His wife suggested a recipe from her Sicilian mother, and the Detroit pizza was born. Similar to some styles of Sicilian pizza, the base of a Detroit pizza is a spongy focaccia, and the toppings are pressed into the dough. Along with tomato sauce and olive oil, a combination of brick and mozzarella cheeses top the pie. The high fat content of the brick cheese helps create a crispy crust, a hallmark of Detroit-style pizza.


While not tied to any particular region, the history of “supreme pizza” marks the creation as distinctly American—it began as a branding exercise in the 1970s for a pizza chain that wanted to create a new type of pizza. Now on menus across the country, the definition of supreme pizza varies but is usually marked by classically American abundance. You’ll usually see peppers, onions, sausage, and pepperoni, for starters. After that, it’s up to the pizzeria.