The annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest is the most American spectacle in all of sports. I consider it a sport, yes, because anything that America can win should be considered a sport. And there is nothing more American than trying to win a prize for shoving ungodly amounts of processed meat into your mouth in a fixed time, all on the Fourth of July. I’m saluting my computer just thinking about it all.
But where do these holy tubes of joy originate from? While I care not to find out what makes up hot dogs, I think it is interesting to explore where they came from, historically, of course.
It can be difficult to trace the furthest existence of a hot dog, especially because the definition can be so loose. A sausage on bread? Not quite a hot dog. I am trying to discover the origin of the name “hot dog.”
Pork sausages called frankfurters have been served on hot dog style buns for hundreds of years. Those frankfurter/sausages on rolls made their way to the United States around 1870, landing at Coney Island via German immigrant Charles Feltman. An alternative claim to hot dog origin stems from St. Louis, where buns were used to help street-meat customers avoid burning their hands.
Yet another claim to hot dog invention comes from Harry M. Stevens, a U.S. sports concessionaire who (like the others) sold German sausages on rolls to spectators at the New York Polo Grounds during the winter time. He aimed to call them “dachshund sandwiches,” but opted with “hot dogs” instead, after discovering his inability to spell dachshund (which I had to spellcheck, here).
So we can note that the hot dog surely stemmed from a German sausage import, served on a roll of sorts. And perhaps it is called hot dog because of an honest spelling mishap.
Hot dogs and their sporting counterpart baseball first made the connection around 1893 when St. Louis Browns owner Chris von der Ahe introduced them to his stadium, along with the amusement park he also owned.
It is also worth noting that the term “dog” has been used in association with sausage since the late 19th Century, emanating from accusations that the sausages were made partially from dog meat (which has aspects of truth to it). So…eek.
As it turns out, tracking down the true origin of the hot dog is as muddled and confusing as the ingredients in a single link. But, with most things, it is not as important to Americans where it comes from, as is how many of it they can eat in ten minutes.