New Orleans History -- Lake Pontchartrain
Monday, June 17, 2024
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1929 Streetcar Strike

One of the lengthiest and most violent transit railway strikes the nation ever experienced began in New Orleans on July 1, 1929. Although an agreement was reached in August, the union members did not agree to go back to work until October.

NOPSI took a financial beating during the strike, with four million fewer people using the transit system than in the previous year.

What good fortune could possibly come out of the misfortune just described? It was the beginning of the famous New Orleans sandwich called the po-boy. Benny and Clovis Martin, owners of Martin Brothers Restaurant on St. Claude Street (Avenue), were grateful for the business they enjoyed. Many of those who frequented their place of business were the street railway workers.

With the strike came difficult economic times for these laboring men. Things were already tough because of conditions leading to the Depression. The added burden of no take-home pay added to their misery. The two brothers set out to help in any way they could.

They decided the best way was to offer an inexpensive sandwich that would feed practically an entire family. They contacted an Italian baker named Gendusa and told him of their idea.

New Orleans French bread traditionally was short and wide. Gendusa decided he would have a new loaf that would be much longer (36-42 inches) and smaller in width. Martin Brothers, as agreed, purchased and cut the bread into 13-15-inch lengths, filled it with gravy, roast beef, mayo, lettuce, tomato and pickles. This they would then sell for a nickel to the poor boys to help them feed their families. The name that stuck from this New Orleans sandwich creation was the “po boy.”

Because of the misfortune of the ’29 transit strike, the city’s No. 1 sandwich, until this day, was born.

Martin Brothers’ kindness in thinking of their customers was not forgotten. The restaurant became the most popular eating spot in town for many years. Its creation received the greatest compliment available. It was copied by every location in New Orleans and Louisiana, wherever sandwiches were sold. Yes, to be copied is the greatest form of flattery.

Source: Buddy Stall at