There’s been a lot of big talk and conflicting claims over the years, as to who invented the hoagie, and when. Was it conjured up for workers going to the shipyards at Hog Island in World War I? Was it first introduced by South Philadelphia sandwich purveyors Antoinette Iannelli, Al DePalma or the Scarsi Brothers? Or someone else?
“I made the first hoagie back in 1935,” declared Antoinette Iannelli in 1983. Why call it a hoagie?” asked food writer Jim Quinn. “’I didn’t,’” responded Iannelli, “I called them submarines….”
It may be we cannot actually know when Philadelphia’s official sandwich was invented and named. What we do know is that the hoagie originated in South Philadelphia at some point during the first half of the 20th century. Hard evidence is sparse, and there’s conflicting verbal accounts shared decades later. Opinion and hearsay . . . lore yearning to be legend.
Fact is, there’s no recorded oral history pegging the hoagie to Hog Island at the end of WWI. Looking for evidence in print, we find there’s no mention of “hoagie” in the 1910s, or the 1920s, or even in the 1930s.
The word “Hoagie” does not appear in print until the 1940s.
Sandwich scholars Edwin Eames and Howard Robboy explored the entire genre—the Bomber, Cuban Sandwich, Garabaldi, Grinder; Hero, Hoagie, Italian Sandwich, Musalatta, Poor Boy, Rocket, Submarine, Torpedo and Zepplin—and found that the first use of the terms “hoggy,” “hoggie” or “hoagie” simply do not appear before the 1940s. The earliest mention of “hoagie” Eames and Robboy located was in the Philadelphia Telephone Directory from 1943.
We delved into the database at Philly.newspapers.com and found corroborating evidence. The word “Hoggie” appears twice in the Inquirer classified ads in 1943. From April 4: “HOGGIE SHOP. Doing gd. Bus. Must sell account sickness. 6305 Greenway ave.” Then, on September 12: “Woman, active 25 to 45, to work part time in sandwich shop. 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. no Sun. 40c an hr. to start. Tony’s Hoggie Shop, 6709 Woodland ave.”
The word “hoagie” doesn’t appear for another three years.
That classified advertisement published February 4, 1946 reads: “HOAGIE & Luncheonette shop. Doing gd bus. Gd. Reason for selling. Apply 5501 Chester ave.” Four days later, the ad is edited: “HOGGIE SHOP & luncheonette. Doing a swell business. Good reason for selling. 5501 Chester ave.”
Digging deeper, we find between 1946 and 1950, the words “hoggie” and “hoagie” appear with equal frequency. The former appears 127 times and the latter 124 times. But at the end of this period, there’s a shift where “hoggie” gives way to “hoagie.” In 1950, the “hoagie” pulls ahead for the first time, appearing 73 times compared with only 45 times for “hoggie.” In the next five years, from 1951-1955, “hoggie” appears 44 times while “hoagie” appears a robust 565 times.
What can we infer from this instability of usage? Perhaps the word “hoagie” was still so new that one spelling, one pronunciation, wasn’t yet widely and uniformly accepted? Was the hoagie still searching for its footing in the Philadelphia lexicon? Only in the final years of the 1950s does “hoggie” fade away, making an appearance only six times compared with 352 imprints for “hoagie.” By the 1960s, it’s all “hoagie,” all the time, with nearly 1,000 impressions.
Meanwhile, in the mid-1950s, hoagie hustlers start staking out extravagant claims as to the origin stories. But without hard evidence, they appear to be based on memory. Competing boasts. Opinion and hearsay; lore yearning to be legend.
Based on evidence in print, we have no reason to believe the words “hoggie” and its successor, the “hoagie,” date back to the World War I era. Rather, both appear to be the product of a rising, post-World War II hoagie hype. Entrepreneurial competition larded with nostalgia and spiced with boosterism.
Searching for a turning point, we see 1972 as a watershed year in hoagie history, Ben DiAngelis, head chef at the Bellevue Stratford, adds hoagies to the hotel’s menu. The Philadelphia-based, nationally broadcast Mike Douglas Show airs a hoagie demonstration. The Shackamaxon Society sponsors the first annual hoagie competition. The Daily News names it’s first “Hoagie Editor.” “Home Sweet Hoagie,” read the headline below a double truck, poster-size illustration of a hoagie in the Inquirer’s Today Magazine. Writer Stephen Friend describes how badly he missed the hoagie after moving to the mid-west, and how frustrated he felt trying to describe “the joys of a hoagie” to friends in Detroit. “It’s like describing the Mona Lisa in Braille.”
Another two decades pass and City Hall declares the hoagie the “Official Sandwich of Philadelphia.” A well-deserved status given twenty years after the fact.
Revelers in hoagie history have a proud legacy to share, but that legacy only goes back to the 1940s. Unless, of course, someone can turn up hard evidence proving the hoagie is ancient as well as venerable.
[Sources: Jim Quinn, “The Story of the First Hoagie, Inquirer, Today Magazine, January 16, 1972; Food Timeline Library; Mary Rizzo, “Hoagies,” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, Rutgers University, 2014; Edwin Eames and Howard Robboy, “The Submarine Sandwich: Lexical Variations in a Cultural Context,” American Speech, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Dec., 1967), pp. 279-288; Dave Wilton, “A Hoagie by any other name,” Verbatim–The Language Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 3 Autumn 2003; Gloria Campisi, “A Hoagie a la Bellevue? Really!” Daily News, April 12, 1972; Kathy Begley, “6-foot Hoagie Adjudged Winner Over New York Hero, “Inquirer, April 20, 1972; Stephen F. Friend, “Home Sweet Hoagie, Inquirer, Today Magazine, April 9, 1972; Joe Clark, “‘Now’ Hoagie Big, Wet,” Daily News, April 20, 1972.]
Also see: A Fresh Take on the Hoagie Origin Story.