What Is A Dagwood Sandwich?

Posted on 13 Sep 2014 14:13

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Sandwich: A Global History,
by award winning food writer Bee Wilson
brings together a wealth of material to
trace how the sandwich has evolved,
looking at sandwiches around the world,
from the decadent meatball hoagie to the
dainty cucumber tea sandwich.

The origin of the Dagwood Sandwich stretches back to 1930. It is not really a specific sandwich. Rather, it is a tall multi-layered sandwich with varying, self-chosen ingredients. Usually, this takes the form of a layered variety of cold cuts, veggies, condiments, etc.

The Dagwood is a name for a style of sandwich, then, one that is vertical and darned near impossible to eat. It is sometimes called the "Skyscraper." But why is it called the Dagwood? The name comes from a comic strip character named Dagwood Bumstead, who is the silly, bumbling husband in Blondie, penned by Murat "Chic" Young.

Dagwood was a huge chow-hound who would eat everything in site. He was the quintessential fridge raider. Something between the comic strip, and the way we eat the sandwich today, was lost in translation.1,2

The Bondie comic strip appeared on September 8, 1930, in a strip called. "Blondie Boopadoop" was what in those days was called a flapper. A young "liberated" woman of the 1920's who had short hair and would go to jazz clubs and smoke those long cigarettes with the holders. Cocaine and promiscuity were also in the mix.

Blondie met Dagwood, who was from a very wealthy family, and from the start a bumbling character. But, after Dagwood took her home and Blondie made a play for Dagwood's father, J. Bolling Bumstead of the Bumstead Locomotive Works, they split up. Blondie later realized that she wanted to be with Dagwood, but the family had forbidden their relationship. Dagwood went on a 28 day, seven hour, eight minute, and 22 second hunger strike, and the family finally gave in, but disinherited hi from the family fortune.

Blondie and Dagwood got married, but Dagwood had to get a regular job (with a construction company), and they became "middle class." In 1934, the couple had a baby son, and in 1941, a daughter. To complete the picture, a dog was added later. Blondie became the widest read comic strip of its time, as it captured the trials and tribulations, not to mention Dagwood's shenanigans, in a way the American audience could relate to. Blondie first appeared in a comic book in 1937, in the first issue of ACE Comics. Regular Blondie comic books began in 1947, an ran in various iterations until 1976. There was also a string of Blondie films, made by Colombia pictures, staring in 1938 and continuing until 1950.3


Dagwood Bumstead and one of his sandwiches.


Dagwood Bumstead and one of his sandwiches.

The Dagwood today is a serious sandwich, with ingredients that actually make sense to eat together between two pieces of bread, at least to some extent. There is even a restaurant franchise called Dagwood's Sandwich Shop.

The original comic strip, however, showed Dagwood raiding the refrigerator to make a colossal sandwich with whatever he could find, which included such things as sardines, tongue, baked beans, onions, mustard, and horseradish. His creation was a ridiculous combination of ingredients that should never shake hands, let alone share the space between bread slices. As the strip went on, his sandwich got bigger and more ridiculous. By 1944, they wouldn't hold together, so he used an electric drill to make a hole in which he could insert a frankfurter to use as a sort of dowel. Think of it like a big meat toothpick.

Scooby-Doo and Shaggy Made Dagwood Sandwiches

Dagwood sandwiches might remind a younger audience of Scooby-Doo style sandwiches. In almost every episode of the cartoon Scooby-Doo, in some haunted place or another, Shaggy and Scooby manage to find an apparently well-stocked kitchen (while on the run from a ghost or monster), and build vertical sandwiches that defy physics. Sometimes, to reduce the sandwiches to a size that can actually fit in their mouths, they use string to magically tie the sandwiches down into a neat little package. These sequences were obviously inspired by the Blondie strip, and Shaggy and Scooby are both Dagwood style chow-hounds.

Although some people do order and consume these tall unwieldy monstrosities, they are, quite frankly, ridiculous and not edible as a sandwich. They lack any of the balance to which a great sandwich aspires, and it is clear that the "joke is on the sandwich maker" when they take such columns of ooze seriously.

The Dagwood Sandwich was Never Meant to be Real

Dagwood's creations in the Blondie comic strip were a joke. We were supposed to laugh at Dagwood, not emulate him. There are only so many different ingredients you can put on a sandwich, no matter how good each one is, before it becomes a bewildering hodgepodge. It will not hold together, and even if you could get your mouth around it, which you cannot, the fillings would come squishing out once you took a bite. If you tried to eat them with a knife and fork, it wouldn't be a sandwich, because you could not get a "sandwich bite."

Liking sandwiches is one thing, but the Dagwood proves another: People easily mistake gluttony for passion. Even a sandwich deserves a bit of finesse. People eat peanut butter and jelly not because it is convenient, but because it is a perfect combo. Adding pickles, then pimento spread, and then a layer of roast beef, and then some stuffed olives, would not make you a sandwich lover, it would make you a Dagwood Bumstead. In other words, a buffoon.

1. Wilson, Bee. Sandwich: A Global History. London: Reaktion, 2010.
2. Russo, Susan, and Matt Armendariz. The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches: Recipes, History, and Trivia for Everything between Sliced Bread. Philadelphia: Quirk, 2010.
3. Blottner, Gene. Columbia Pictures Movie Series, 1926-1955: The Harry Cohn Years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 2012.

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