History of an American Classic: How Hot Dogs Came to Be

  • March 3, 2016

Hot dogs are as American as apple pie, and they’re so popular, more than 20 billion are served up across the nation each year. You can order a hot dog in fast food restaurant franchises from coast to coast, and it’s a favorite at backyard cookouts, around campfires, and at every type of sporting event imaginable. Here’s a look at the fascinating history of the hot dog.

It Began with the Sausage

The hot dog is a descendant of the world’s first processed food, the sausage. It’s believed that sausages were common fare in Pompeii, and they’re also mentioned in Homer’s ninth century B.C. epic, the Odyssey. The invention of precooked link sausages made from natural casings filled with spiced, chopped meat is attributed to a Roman named Gaius, a cook for the notorious emperor Nero.

Over the centuries, the popularity of the sausage spread throughout Europe. Many different versions evolved based on regional and national tastes, which has resulted in the wide variety of sausage types and flavors we enjoy today.

I Say Frankfurter, You Say Wiener

The city of Frankfurt is often credited with creating the modern version of the hot dog, which became known as the “little-dog” or “dachshund” sausage in honor of the beloved German breed. In 1852, the city’s butchers’ guild coined the name “frankfurter” for their take on the spicy, smoked sausage. Austrians may have an equally valid claim, though, because Vienna (Wien in German) is home to another dachshund sausage variation, the wienerwurst.

Hot Dogs Get All Wrapped Up

Germans and other European immigrants brought the little-dog sausage to America where it was first served in its unique bread wrapper. There are differing theories on when and where frankfurters and wieners started appearing in buns:

  1. In the 1860s, an unnamed German immigrant began selling frankfurters with sauerkraut and rolls from a pushcart in the Bowery district of New York City.
  2. A German butcher, Charles Feltman, opened a stand on Coney Island in 1871 to sell wieners on milk rolls.
  3. At the 1904 St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition, it’s said that a concessionaire from Bavaria, Anton Feuchtwanger, gave out white gloves to make it easier for customers to handle the hot sausages he sold. When he ran out of gloves, his brother-in-law, a baker, crafted a soft roll to hold the meat.

How the Hot Dog Got Its Name

Although there are no firm facts about the origin of the term “hot dog,” it’s speculated that the name was coined at the New York Polo Grounds on a chilly April day in 1901. Tad Dorgan, a sports cartoonist in attendance, heard the vendors hawking sausages by shouting “Get your dachshund sausages while they’re red hot!” He quickly drew up a cartoon of barking dachshunds nestled in warm rolls, but because he wasn’t sure of the spelling, he captioned it with “hot dog” instead of “dachshund.”

Movers and Shakers Who’ve Helped Make Hot Dog Restaurants an American Classic

Nathan Handwerker, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, set up a Coney Island hot dog stand in 1916, using a recipe his wife developed. A hundred years later, Nathan’s Famous hot dogs are sold around the globe. In 1946, Dave Barham started a beachfront shop in Santa Monica, selling the finest made-to-order hot dogs on a stick and fresh lemonade.

Today, Hot Dog on a Stick™ has more than 90 hot dog restaurants, and it’s carrying on a tradition of satisfying America’s craving for its favorite food.

If you love hot dogs and you’re looking for the right franchise opportunity, contact us to learn more about Hot Dog on a Stick™.