History Of Bologna, America’s Best-Loved Lunch Meat


In today's haute cuisine and foodie culture, it may be easy to dismiss the humble Bologna sandwich as a product of a bygone era, but the history of Bologna is the history of the United States. It is a story of immigration, an ever-changing economy, and of course, a Wienermobile.

A European Delicacy

Today, we think of bologna as a poor man's food, but in his native home of Bologna, Italy, it was a seasoned dish equivalent to fine prosciutto. Of course, the Italian version of bologna is unfamiliar to most Americans, having made lean pork from an old recipe that dates back to the mid-1600s. The Italians who brought bologna to the Americas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries began from the bottom, however, because it was largely consumed by poor immigrants, Americans associated it with the lower classes.

Mai is the first name of Bologna

It was, however, a German immigrant who brought this low lunch meat into the limelight. At the age of 14, he moved to the United States with his family. After leaving, Oscar Ferdinand Meyer took an apprenticeship with a butcher and worked in Chicago's meatpacking industry for the next six years. Eventually, he leased his own meat market with his brothers and sold his bologna with tremendous success to Chicago's growing German-American population, using traditional sausage-making techniques brought with them from Europe. By the 1920s, the Oscar Mayer Sausage Company had brought Bologna into the mainstream. The company is also credited with the advent of the vacuum-sealed packaging system, which allowed customers to buy pre-shredded packages from their neighborhood grocery store instead of going all the way to get their bologna sliced.

A Depression-Era Favorite

When the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, Bologna found its place. It was cheaper than hard sausages and salami, and it was so versatile that a Depression-era housewife could feed her kids a bologna sandwich for lunch and then roast a bologna for the family dinner. During the 20th century and beyond, the popularity of bologna has reflected the ups and downs of the economy, becoming more favored when purse strings are tightened. However, there is one group that always sticks to those cheap circles. While adults opt for the more refined meat, the simplicity of bologna made it a childhood staple.

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