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Submarine Sandwiches | What's in a Name?

Submarine Sandwiches | What’s in a Name?
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Everyone loves a title, everyone wants to be special, even entire communities. Take Groton and New London, Connecticut, for example.

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The good folks of Groton, Connecticut, posted a sign, “You Are Entering the Submarine Capital of the World,” to eliminate confusion, because some people believe that New London, Connecticut, across the Thames River is the sub capital. And it is, sort of. It’s the capital of submarine sandwiches, being the birthplace of that wonderfully portable meal, introduced to the world by New London’s own Benedetto Capaldo. What had originally been a “grinder” because of the way you had to chew to get through the Italian bread became a “sub” during World War II. By then the submarine base commissary was ordering almost 500 sandwiches a day, and Benny had to hire four helpers to stuff the submarine-shaped loaves with salami, tomatoes, cheese, and lettuce. When the sailors eventually left town, they took their discovery of submarine sandwiches with them.

The Naval Sub Base, usually referred to as the “New London Sub Base,” really is in Groton, which long ago was part of New London. Between the Electric Boat Shipyard and the Naval Sub Base, the largest sub base in the world, there are a lot of “firsts” and “mosts” and “biggests” to back up the Submarine Capital. For example:

  • Electric Boat is where Mamie Eisenhower cracked a bottle of champagne over the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, Nautilus, on January 21, 1954.
  • During World War II, with almost 13,000 employees, Electric Boat launched a sub every two weeks and delivered 74 of the famous “fleet-type” subs—more than any other yard in America.
  • Groton-built subs accounted for 39 percent of all Japanese shipping destroyed in the Pacific, and Groton’s Flasher sank 100,231 tons worth of enemy ships—an American record.
  • Seawolf, launched in Groton in 1955, was the first sub ever powered by a liquid-metal-cooled atomic reactor.
  • A diesel engine was first used in a submarine commissioned n Groton in 1912.
  • The museum library, with 5,000 volumes on submersibles, is one of the largest of its kind in the world.
  • On August 19, 1958, Electric Boat launched Triton, the first sub with two nuclear reactors.
  • As the world’s leading training ground of submarine officers, the Naval Sub Base was the first to use, in 1930, an escape training tank to better prepare its men (and eventually women).
  • 1959 saw the launch of the world’s first ballistic missile sub—the George Washington.

Excerpt from “The Submarine Capitals of the World,” Yankee Magazine, March 1990.

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

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15 Responses to Submarine Sandwiches | What’s in a Name?

  1. Snappy August 18, 2014 at 7:02 am #

    I grew up around the corner in NL, where and when the grinder was created. The sandwich will always be called a grinder. I remember going in the shop and seeing the old Italian man stuffing the loaf of Italian bread with fresh cut cheese, deli and tomatos.The best grinders that were ever made.

  2. Joyce Adrian August 18, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    Having been a CT resident for more than 30 years, I have always called it a grinder and that is what I hear others call it as well. When I go back to Maine, where I grew up, those sandwiches are called italian sandwiches (or Italians). They are made in a very special way, different from any other.

  3. Ingrid Gordon August 18, 2014 at 9:35 am #

    In Lynnfield Mass we called them subs, but when I lived in Southie the locals called them “spuckies.”
    Now I live in Portland OR where you can buy long rolls called hoagie rolls. Go figure.

  4. Gretta Haren August 18, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    Joyce, my mom is from Maine and she Makes Italian sandwiches as well. It has ham, cheese, tomato, pickles, olives, and onions. I always wondered where the name came from!

  5. Joyce Wilson August 18, 2014 at 10:44 am #

    Grew in NL and they were always called grindas (remember to drop the r), now I live in Utah where they are called subs or hoagies but they are never as good here as the grindas back home!!!

  6. Norm Aabye August 18, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    Born and raised in Connecticut, we always called them grinders. In our “senior” years, we moved to rural Pennsylvania. I called a local pizza restaurant and asked if I could order a meatball and sausage “grinder”. The voice on the other end of the phone said, “What?” I quickly hung up, wondering what I had said wrong. I then looked at the little menu I had at the house and found out that our here they’re called “hoagies”….not grinders! We had a good laugh and learned about local lingo when it comes to food names.

  7. Deborah MacDonald August 18, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

    Growing up in Western MA, we always called them grinders. After I married and moved to Eastern MA, they were called subs. I have lived in Florida for the past 11 years and subs it is to this day. But I am now vegan, so it’s a different kind of sub for me than in the olden days.

  8. Doug Charnley August 18, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

    I grew up outside Boston and always called them grinders. Live in NH now and everyone seems to call them subs.

  9. Alice Walton August 18, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    New London is NOT the “capitol of the submarine sandwich.” It is the birthplace and home of the grinder. Please, do NOT call a grinder, a submarine sandwich. The correct name has always been and always will be, grinder. Visit New London, eat a grinder and you will see why we ask that you never call it anything but, a grinder.

    • Dawn Favreau August 19, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

      Well said…Applause from an old New Londoner!

  10. Ed Pont August 18, 2014 at 10:36 pm #

    Here in Southern CA they are called “subs”. Back home in Western MA we called them “grinders”

  11. Joe Heap August 18, 2014 at 11:59 pm #

    It is still called a grinder in New London County. The men and women who came home from the New London area tried to have them made, the people at home were either told or assumed that because most of the people were associated with or served on Submarines that they were served on Submarines. Whenever a New Londoner travels we, always try to correct the reataurants that serve them on the correct terminology.
    Most New Londoners (we call ourselves Whalers) know you just can’t mget a good grinder anywhere hut in the
    New London area. Some say its the bread, others say the oil, but others, like myself know it’s just the way they’re built, just like our Submarines, simply the best.

  12. Mary Shaughnessy DeMaio August 19, 2014 at 9:41 pm #

    Oh, dear so much is wrong with this article as far as the grinder is concerned! Where to begin!!!!!???? A grinder is NOT a sub! A grinder does NOT have mayo or pickles! Nothing about that picture is a grinder! We New Londoners are very adamant about what a grinder is! It is a matter of pride! Everything else in your article is accurate, but what you wrote about the grinder is completely wrong! At no time has a grinder been called anything other than it’s name – grinder! Subs, hoagies, or whatever other names are out there are all imitations! And sorry, but really bad imitations! Travel to New London and actually eat a real grinder and you will understand. Unfortunately none of us will ever be able to experience a C&R or Patsy’s grinder again in our lifetimes, but since we New Londoners were fortunate enough to have had the experience growing up we are all the only real experts on this subject!!!!!!

  13. Sharon Levin August 19, 2014 at 10:07 pm #

    So true! A sub Is NOT a grinder, a hoagie is NOT a grinder. A grinder IS a grinder. I am a native Whaler that now lives in Maryland. I’ve never found a true grinder anywhere I’ve traveled or lived except in New London. Also miss those clams with bellies at Fred’s Shanty and of course, the old Michael’s Dairy. Never did find a duplicate for their chocholate ice cream.
    Oh, and while I’m on a roll, give me a lobster….Maryland, your crabs just can’t compete!

  14. Debbie Jantzi August 20, 2014 at 4:13 am #

    Born and raised in Groton they were always known as grinders not subs! I remember being corrected and told if you wanted a “sub” you went to Subway! My husband grew up in New Jersey where they are called hoagies. But make no mistake, there is only one “grinda”, nothing like it!!

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