Though I love the Nebraska Reuben story, it isn't the one told most often. That would be the tale of Arnold Reuben of New York, NY.
According to Joan Nathan, author of Jewish Cooking in America, Reuben opened his first deli in 1915 and, like many first-generation deli owners, he was a German immigrant. By 1920, he had a 24-hour restaurant on 82nd and Broadway, serving big sandwiches to actors and nighthawks.
The folklore behind the sandwich is as follows: an actress came into the restaurant and requested a big sandwich. In a story told in a letter from Arnold Reuben's daughter, her dad put together a sammie made from ham, turkey, Swiss cheese, cole slaw, and Russian dressing on rye:
He served it to the lady who said, "Gee, Reuben, this is the best sandwich I ever ate. You ought to call it an Annette Seelos Special." To which he replied, "Like hell I will. I'll call it a Reuben's Special."
He may have called it a Reuben, but it's not what we call a Reuben, so it would seem the Omaha invention story carries more weight. Arnold's son, Arnold Reuben Jr., attempted to remedy this later in life by telling yet another invention story. In 1993, he told the St. Petersburg Times that the sandwich was invented in the 1930s, when the chef made him a meal of corned beef, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut on pumpernickel.
Revisionist history or true story? Either way, you've got to give credit to Arnold Jr. for understanding that when it comes to sandwich history, the best or loudest storytellers usually win. So which invention tale do you believe?