The phrase to bring home the bacon means:
– to achieve success;
– to supply material support.
It probably refers to the fact that bacon has long been a staple food.
The earliest instance that I have found is from the Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, New York) of Tuesday 4th September 1906, which gave an account of the boxing match that had taken place the previous day at Goldfield, Nevada, between Oscar Matthew ‘Battling’ Nelson (1882-1954) and Joe Gans (Joseph Gant – 1874-1910):
Before the fight Gans received this telegram from his mother:
“Joe, the eyes of the world are on you. Everybody says you ought to win. Peter Jackson will tell me the news, and you bring home the bacon.”
The phrase was used later in September 1906 with reference to other sports:
– baseball, in the Indianapolis Morning Star (Indianapolis, Indiana) of Tuesday 11th:
The Mud Hens were unable to bring home the bacon.
– wrestling, in The World (Vancouver, British Columbia) of Monday 24th:
Roller is confident of his ability to “bring home the bacon.”
But it was the above-mentioned telegram sent to Joe Gans by his mother that popularised the phrase; for example, on Monday 19th November 1906, The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) published the following:
Joe Gans will retire from the ring.
Joe Gans, the lightweight champion pugilist of the world, is in Baltimore visiting his aged mother and meeting friends […].
The telegram sent by his mother to him in Goldfield, just before he whipped Battling Nelson, is historic and memorable. It read:
Dear Joe: Don’t fail to bring home the bacon.
Said Gans last night:
“Well, I came to mother to bring home the bacon, and I brought it.”
Likewise, the following is from a programme of boxing matches published in the Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) of Tuesday 11th December 1906:
Leo Houck and Sam Posts, the Lancaster boys, are pitted against two great Philadelphia lads and, like Joe Gans, they expect to “bring home the bacon.”
The following paragraph is from The Nashville American (Nashville, Tennessee) of Monday 31st December 1906:
Joe Gans will go into the ring again to-morrow and make an effort to “bring home the bacon.” The youngster who receives his delivery is expected to put up a stiff argument.
On Tuesday 1st January 1907, The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut) published an article about the fight due to take place the following day at Tonopah, Nevada, between Joe Gans and Herman Langfield:
Gans Favorite in Today’s Battle.
Colored Man Says He’ll “Bring Home That Bacon.”
Gans, who declares that this will be his last fight unles [sic] he can have another go at Nelson said today:—
“[…] I look for a tough fight, but I am sure that I can outbox and outgeneral Herman and win. It would not surprise me if it takes ten or fifteen rounds for me to get him, but I’ll get him sure if it takes fifty. I will bring home the bacon again on New Year’s Day.”
On the same day, and also about that fight between Joe Gans and Herman Langfield, the Waterloo Daily Courant (Waterloo, Iowa) published the following:
Baltimore, Md., Jan. 1.—A holiday present in the shape of a check for $6,000 from her son, Joe Gans, was the agreeable surprise of Mrs. Gans. Accompanying the check was a letter of good wishes. Last night Mrs. Gans sent her son this telegram:
“Thanks, keep stepping, Joe.”
When Joe fought Nelson in Goldfield Mrs. Gans told him by wire to “bring home the bacon,” and when the victory had been won Joe told his mother by wire he had “not only the bacon but the gravy.”
The following day, Wednesday 2nd January 1907, a number of newspapers—for instance, the San Bernardino Daily Sun (San Bernardino, California)—gave a detailed account of the fight, in which Joe Gans defeated Herman Langfield; it appears from what follows that Mrs Gans again sent her son a telegram requesting him “to bring home the bacon”, and that this had become a catchphrase associated with Joe Gans:
Bring Home the Bacon.
Much merriment was created by the announcer stating that Gans’ mother had sent a telegram requesting him to “bring home the bacon.”
Before he had a chance to read the telegram, some one in the crowd yelled, “Does it say ‘Bring home the Matzos?’”