The Evolution Of The Breakfast Sandwich Throughout History

When you hear the combination of the words egg, bacon, and cheese, the mind will usually land on the beloved breakfast sandwich — and your mouth will likely begin to water, too. Pete Wells, a food critic from The New York Times, wrote an article stating that it is "designed to satisfy practical needs rather than voluptuary desires."

Indeed, the history of breakfast in America has always been a story about convenience. According to Voa News, the nightly fast was broken by eating whatever was at hand, and often that was bread, eggs, and leftovers. Cereal became a major breakfast player mostly because of marketing and advertising, which convinced working mothers to feed their children cereal as an easy-to-prepare meal (via The Atlantic). But the classic breakfast sandwich reigns supreme in terms of hearty and quick breakfasts, and its history is also deeply rooted in convenience for the working class.

From working class England to the United States

It's thought that the first breakfast sandwich appeared in 19th century East London and was sold to factory workers. This initial form of breakfast sandwich consisted of fried eggs, meat, and at times cheese, and it was served on a soft roll called a bap, according to Taste Atlas. The portable breakfast was convenient and filling for a grueling day at work in a factory, and this breakfast trend traveled all the way over the Atlantic to the U.S. during the Industrial Revolution, albeit in its own form (via Huffington Post).

The Huffington Post shares that Denver's local breakfast sandwich variation has eggs mixed with ham, green pepper, and onion. Famed food writer, James Beard, hypothesizes that this variation may be a product of the nostalgia of the Chinese railroad workers who longed for egg foo young, a fluffy omelet-like dish made from eggs scrambled with veggies.

The craving for convenience exploded in the 1950s, and the breakfast sandwich's place in history was cemented when a McDonald's franchise owner, Herb Peterson, invented the Egg McMuffin in the early 1970s, as stated by NPR.

The origin of the Egg McMuffin

In just 2021, the Egg McMuffin celebrated its 50th anniversary, as reported by the Washington Post. Americans proved their appetite for this particular egg sandwich in 2015, when McDonald's bought a staggering 5% of all eggs produced in the United States.

Herb Peterson initially sought a way to recreate eggs benedict in sandwich form, so he developed a Teflon ring to cook eggs on a hamburger griddle. He threw American cheese into the mix to replace the messy hollandaise sauce and added a slice of Canadian bacon on top. He convinced Ray Kroc, the McDonald's chairman, to sample his creation, and the rest is history. It's even speculated that the breakfast sandwich possibly saved floundering McDonald's sales when they rolled out all-day breakfast.

Just be careful if you ever grab McDonald's before a flight; one passenger was fined nearly $2,000 for accidentally bringing an Egg McMuffin into Australia (via Travel+Leisure).