The "hero sandwich" term is first cited in New York City in the 1930s, in the Work Progress Administration's Lexicon Of Trade Jargon (1937) and in a column by Walter Winchell (1939).
The long list of the names of sandwiches served on long rolls includes blimpie, bomber, Cuban (medianoche), Dagwood, garibaldi, gondola, grinder, hoagie, Italian, muffuletta, peacemaker (La Mediatrice), pilgrim, pistolette, po' boy (poor boy), rocket, skyscraper, spiedie, spucky (spuckie, spukie), submarine (sub), torpedo, torta (Mexican po' boy), wedge and zeppelin (zep).
Double Tongued Word Wrester
1937 Greulich @ NYC LOTJ (Dec. 30) "Armored car guards jargon": Hero. A big sandwich.
23 June 1939, Charleston (WV) Daily Mail, "Things I Never Knew 'Til Now About Coney Island," Walter Winchell syndicated column, pg. 5, col. 4:
Tastiest tidbits on the Island are toasted rolls and bacon at Child's, the clams and shrimp cocktails at the Clam Bar, the honey buns at Hirsch's, the shashlik, fried shrimp, fried clams and chow mein on the boardwalk, the sunshine cocktail and shore dinner at Scoville's, the Hero Sandwich (a loaf of Italian bread with ham and Swiss, American or Bel Paese cheese), and, of course the hot corn and frankfurters all along the route.
9 August 1947, New York Herald Tribune, pg. 9, col. 6:
1,000 Grab Hero Snacks Daily
For Hearty Lunch on Ninth Ave.
(PHOTO CAPTION: A thousand heros a day are built for the Ninth Avenue lunch trade by Manganaro, the grocer)
Sandwich Is Built With
Half French Loaf, Split
Lengthwise, and Fillings
By Clementine Paddleford
Far off the beaten path of the epicures who eat luncheons of vichyssoise, smoked turkey and caviar in the sterile glitter of air-cooled emporiums, is the Manganaro grocery at 488 Ninth Avenue, famous for heros. A thousand men and women push, jostle, crowd to the store's long marble counter each noontime to grab up a hero, a cold beer or coffee. Some seven hundred eat lunch on the spot, another three hundred eat in the street or carry snacks back to their offices.
You know the hero? A monster contraption built like a sandwich but of vaster dimensions. The ordinary size costs 35 cents. That's half a French loaf of bread, the half split lengthwise, then the filling laid in. The filling may be proscuitto ham or mozzarele cheese or the two in combination. You can have tuna fish or sardines or salami. Some want a double hero, that's a whole loaf of the long French bread split lengthwise, then sandwiched, the price 70 cents. No mayonnaise, no butter, just bread and plenty of ham, cheese or whatever. The filling in, the top half of the loaf is clamped on and the whole bundled into a waiting hand.
4 November 1949, Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle, pg. 19, col. 8:
On Flatbush Extension I passed a tiny restaurant, "Ann's Restaurant," a sign in the window advertises:
"We specialize in the largest Hero Sandwiches." A "Hero Sandwich," in case you don't know, consists of a half loaf of French or Italian bread cut through the middle lengthwise, and filled with salami, cheese or ham.
27 March 1954, New York Herald Tribune, pg. 11, col. 6:
Antolette's Grew From Hero Sandwich
"What did you folks do before you came here?"
"Ever hear of the Ross Steak House on Liberty St.? We had that and before then Delphi Steak House in Brooklyn. But we got our start serving hero sandwiches down by the Navy Yard. Every move we make the places get nicer."
4 August 1977, Washington (DC) Post, "Please Pass the Subs--Er, Hoagies, Er...," pg. E10:
Submarine, he (Howard Robboy of Temple University, who wrote an American Speech article on sandwich names -- ed.) found, is the most popular name for the sandwich, followed by hoagie, poor boy and grinder. In some cities they go by more than one name, such as Philadelphia, where one finds both hoagies and submarines. Other names are torpedo (Reno, San Antonio, San Diego), Italian sandwich (Louisville, Reading, Allentown), hero (New York City and Newark), rocket (Cheyenne and Cincinnati), bomber in Buffalo, mufalatta in New Orleans, Cuban sandwich in Miami, wedgie in Weschester County, N. Y. and slame in Berkeley. Norristown is the only place it is referred to as a zeppelin, and Madison the only place one finds it as a garibaldi.