The lobster roll has become the unofficial sandwich of all of New England. From Maine to Connecticut and everywhere in between, you could throw a quahog shell and hit a spot that offers them up (and likely claims theirs is the best).

Whether you love your lobster roll hot and buttered or cold with mayo, grilled bun or dry roll, there’s a variation for everyone – even a lobster grilled cheese.

There are various stories about who actually invented the lobster roll – we’ll get into that in a bit – but the really interesting story is the woman who may have laid the groundwork for the superb sandwich.

It all started with a Massachusetts cookbook author by the name of Child – but no, not Julia.

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Medford’s Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880) wrote The Frugal Housewife, first published in 1829 and expanded and reprinting through 33 printings over 25 years. It was hugely successful, and was credited with helping poorer people be able to enjoy better lives through frugality, both with recipes and advice for running a household.

Lobster would make sense for those living frugally; they were abundant and cheap and considered “poor man’s food,” often fed to prisoners. They didn’t become a “delicacy” until the Civil War, when canning came into play and suddenly those in other parts of the country went crazy for the canned lobster meat that so many in New England had looked down upon for generations.

Then again, Child was someone who sought to lift up those who were looked down upon.

Although she was a prolific author who wrote dozens of books, Child was also a former schoolteacher, a journalist, and a well-known activist who fought for the abolition of slavery, women’s rights and Native American rights.

She was also the author of the poem (which also became a song) “Over the River and Through the Wood,” about a trip to her grandparents’ home in Medford which you can still visit today.

via Public Domain
via Public Domain

Child’s first published work was Hobomok, an 1824 novel about an interracial marriage between a Puritan woman and a Native man that takes place in the 1620s and 1630s in Plymouth and Salem.

Even though she pushed for equality for oppressed peoples and looked to upend social norms, she also shook things up when it came to lobster.

In The Frugal Housewife, Child had the first published recipe for cold lobster salad, which Sandwich Magazine said “called for mixing lobster meat with a dressing of egg yolks, oil, vinegar, mustard, and cayenne pepper, along with fine-cut lettuce.”

READ MORE: Bristol Restaurant's Lobster Sandwich Is a Cheesy Take on a New England Classic

By the 1860s, as lobster became all the rage, lobster sandwiches were one of the many ways people consumed the crustacean. Yet the lobster roll as we know it still hadn’t entered the picture yet.

Although there are many claimed origins of the lobster roll, the most commonly accepted dates to the 1920s at a restaurant called Perry’s in Milford, Connecticut.

According to, “the story goes that Harry, the proprietor, invented the portable sandwich after a traveling liquor salesman swung by his eatery. The salesman was hankering after a ‘hot grilled lobster sandwich’ to take with him on the road. Harry, being quick-thinking and nimble-fingered, created one on the spot.”

Sounds like Harry was really good in a “pinch” (pun totally intended).

From there, Harry continued to tinker with his recipe and the bread until he got it just right, having a local bakery concoct a special torpedo-like roll to hold his creation. It took off in popularity and by the 1950s, roadside “lobster shacks” were serving them up all over Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and other Eastern states.

Now, the lobster roll is as ubiquitous across New England as a Dunkin’ iced coffee or a Tom Brady jersey, and we have Lydia Maria Child to thank for cracking open a classic.

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