The History Behind the Bacon Egg and Cheese

The sandwich that has become an emblem of American culture...where did it come from?

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The History Behind the Bacon Egg and Cheese

Jacqueline Walker and Emily Sherman

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The Bacon Egg and Cheese- a trademark of American culture.  This meat, cheese, and bread combo popularized by many fast-food chains has resulted in this sandwich becoming the average breakfast for many Americans.  Its affordable price and calorie count make for a sufficient meal before individuals start their day.  Where did the Bacon Egg and Cheese come from?

Historical Overview

The rise of breakfast sandwiches parallels the emergence of the modern worker – overworked, underpaid and hungry.  Originally, the idea of a breakfast sandwich like the BEC begins in the early 1800s, on the smoggy streets of East London (think Industrial Revolution).  Seeing a need for a quick bite among the myriad of factory workers trudging to work each morning, street vendors set up stalls to serve them. Workers, who soon became customers, would swiftly down a mug of coffee, hand the mug back to the vendor, then walk away with a sandwich.  It enclosed classic breakfast foods (a fried egg, meat, and cheese) between two halves of a soft roll called a “bap.” The bread would soak up and contain the liquified egg and bacon or sausage grease, turning the elements of a hefty breakfast into something that could be easily eaten on the go.  The rise of the bap’s popularity brought large quantities of profit to the merchants who sold them.  For workers at factories, construction sites and mines, for whom food budgets were small and kitchen access often non-existent, a portable meal that could be eaten on the route to work was essential.  Although demand for other fast food products has flatlined, breakfast is one of the few subdivisions of the industry that continues to grow at an exponential rate.  Now, as always, people need to eat.  Many working Americans lack the time in the morning to cook for ourselves.  Basically, everyone needs breakfast and is too busy to make it themselves.

An example of a “bap.” Imagine the above sandwich with a cup of coffee and you have the typical breakfast of a factory worker during the Industrial Revolution.

American Version of the BEC

Listen to the BEC podcast, and you’ll notice how Juniors Jacqueline Walker and Pippa Emms (who are both from England) noted how they had never had a BEC before arriving in the U.S.  Ironically, considering the BEC originates in England, it seems that the American version (greasy bacon and plenty of cheese) has come to serve as the universally known form of the sandwich.  There are plenty varieties of a “BEC,” a quite popular version being the Sausage Egg and Cheese (which harbors more recognition in England).  The question is- who coined the almighty American version?  

In 1971, advertising executive Herb Peterson invented the Egg McMuffin (there it is- McDonald’s) when trying to create a version of eggs benedict that didn’t require Hollandaise sauce. He found that a fried egg topped with meat and cheese did the trick. Peterson started selling the sandwich at a restaurant he owned, and then introduced the Egg McMuffin to McDonald’s chairman Ray Kroc.

Image result for egg mcmuffin herb peterson

Herb Peterson, inventor of the Egg McMuffin.  

Kroc was delighted with the sandwich, and the Egg McMuffin was put on the McDonald’s menu in 1972.  Beginning in October 2015, McDonald’s began selling Egg McMuffins all day due to their unwavering popularity over the span of 30+ years.

A chart illustrating McDonald’s sales over the course of five years (2010-2015).  Once the all-day breakfast menu was introduced in 2015, sales spiked 5.7%.  

Today, nearly all fast food joints and delis have their own variant of the breakfast sandwich; it’s no doubt that the Bacon Egg and Cheese remains number one in the hearts of loyal customers.