The early history of pork roll is unclear. It’s possible that New Jersey’s favorite breakfast meat has origins in the Revolutionary War at the Battle of Trenton. If pork roll can truly trace its history back that far, it’s because the Continental Army needed a food that could withstand travel and carried their rolls of salted, cured ham around to each battle.
While New Jersey’s would love for that story to be true, pork roll’s official history begins in 1856. John Taylor created pork roll in Trenton, New Jersey. He originally sold his pork product under the name Taylor Ham, which is what North Jersey still calls it today. However, Taylor wasn’t the only one making pork roll. In 1870, farmer and butcher George Washington Case developed his own recipe and packaged it in corn husks.
Despite North Jersey insisting pork roll should be called Taylor Ham, regardless of the actual brand, Taylor was forced to change his product’s name when the Pure Food and Drug Act passed in 1906 and his product no longer met the new legal definition of ham. In order to meet the new legal regulations, Taylor Ham was rechristened as pork roll, but in North Jersey the old name stuck.
Because the Pure Food and Drug Act caused Taylor to lose his product’s distinctive name, he started suing any competition selling similarly named products, such as “rolled pork” or “Trenton style Pork Roll.” However, he lost his case when the judge ruled that the words “pork roll” cannot be trademarked.
Even though New Jerseyans can’t agree on what to call Taylor Ham/pork roll, they all agree that Taylor Ham/pork roll, egg, and cheese is a uniquely New Jersey item that has captured the imagination of the state’s residents. On April 14, 2015, Assemblyman Tim Eustace introduced an Act in the New Jersey State Legislation requesting that the regional delicacy be declared the official state sandwich of New Jersey. New Jerseyans know they will never agree on what to call Taylor Ham/pork roll, but they are proud to call it their own.