History of Hot Dogs: 25 Insights Into Its Journey

Hot dogs are simple and delicious food that many people around the world love. What could be better than a delicious hotdog complete with a fresh buttery roll and the sauce of your choice? Hmm, delicious, right?

When considering where hot dogs come from and how they’ve become the go-to snack for so many people, there’s a lot of history to wade through.

The exact origins and history of the hot dog are pretty controversial. Many places dispute the title of the creator of America’s favorite food. Yet, throughout the centuries, the German-inspired dish gained people’s hearts throughout the world. It’s been mentioned in old poems and was even served to Great Britain’s king and queen when they visited the United States.

If you are curious to know how this delicious food came to be, here are 25 historical facts to help you become more familiar with hot dogs’ origins.

1. Hot dogs’ main ingredient was invented in 900 B.C.

In his epic poem The Odyssey, Homer mentions a sausage. Then, centuries later, Emperor Nero’s cook Gaius discovered them.

The famous story goes that one pig was roasted without being properly cleaned. To check whether that pig could be eaten, Gaius cut into its belly. 

He then saw the pig’s puffed-up intestines poking out of the roast. Gaius then declared, “I have discovered something important,” while stuffing the intestines with ground venison, ground beef, and ground wheat cooked with spices, tying them together as he went.

2. The dispute about the original creators of the hot dog.

The long history of the hot dog dates back to 1487 in Frankfurt (officially Frankfurt am Main), which mentions the word frankfurter as proof of its origin. 

Johann Georghehner was a German butcher from Coburg who was promoting his new food in Frankfurt in the late 1600s, and that is when some claim the hot dog was invented.

3. Austria also wants the credit for creating the hot dog.

Vienna claims to be the birthplace of the hot dog based on the term “wiener.” According to legend, the master sausage maker who made the first wiener received his early training in Frankfurt, Germany. Although he called his sausage Wiener-Frankfurter, it was usually known by wienerwurst (Wien being the German name for Vienna; wurst meaning sausage).

4. Hot dogs are more than 500 years old.

Frankfurt celebrated the 500th anniversary of the hot dog in 1987. That date, of course, is only valid if you consider them to be the actual inventors. In any case, we’re always happy for a celebration – and apparently, so are Frankfurters.

5. A hot dog is a popular type of sausage.

In general, sausages are made of ground meat mixed with spices and herbs. The casings can either be natural or synthetic. A hot dog is a kind of sausage known as frankfurters, franks, dogs, winies, and wieners. It is usually made from beef, chicken, and/or pork (cured, smoked, and cooked).

The meat in a hot dog is more finely ground than the meat in a sausage, giving the hot dog a smoother texture. In addition, the spice mix in a hot dog is generally milder than in a sausage. Seasonings may include coriander, garlic, ground mustard, nutmeg, salt, sugar, white pepper, among others.

6. Hot dog historian is a real job.

Did you know that there are people whose job is exclusively to record the history of food? That includes, of course, America’s favorite, the hot dog. Many of these historians have published books and written blogs about the history of the hot dog.

7. The hot dog was introduced in America in 1893.

Austro-Hungarians Emil Reichel and Sam Ladany are just two of the many people considered to have invented hot dogs. However, they were responsible for introducing it to America.

In 1893, they sold their creation at the World’s Fair in Chicago. The event drew a large number of visitors who ate a lot of sausages. Hot dogs were a hit because they were easy to eat, quick, and affordable. 

8. Hot dogs are a ‘must’ at baseball games.

From 1893 onward, hotdogs became a staple in baseball parks. Chris Von de Ahe, a German immigrant who owned the St. Louis Browns baseball team, started the tradition by pairing sausages with his popular beer. 

9. The hot dog bun’s invention is also controversial.

Sausage and bread are traditional German food pairings. However, it’s difficult to say who created the hot dog bun first because it was common to see street-meat vendors on the streets in the late 1800s. 

10. Chances are this guy invented the hot dog bun.

German immigrant Charles Feltman may have opened the first hot dog cart on Coney Island in 1867. He owned a pie wagon that delivered fresh pies to pubs and inns in Coney Island, and customers asked him to add hot sandwiches to his menu. 

A sausage and roll was a good option since the wagon could not accommodate the variety of ingredients. In its first year, Feltman sold 3,684 pork sausages on a bun, according to great-grandson Charles Robert Feltman. After becoming famous, he served more than 100,000 people and 40,000 hot dogs in one day.

11. A cartoonist created the term hot dog.

This is one of those unconfirmed stories, but it’s pretty interesting. Tad Dorgan, a sports cartoonist for the New York Journal, saw salespeople selling hot dogs at a baseball game (see fact 13 for the story) and drew a cartoon of barking dachshund sausages nestled neatly in rolls.

Dorgan didn’t know how to write “dachshund,” so he wrote “hot dog” instead. The cartoon went viral, coining the term “hot dog.” Yet historians have never found this cartoon to confirm the story.

12. The hot dog was also a joke about dachshund dogs.

Hot dogs can be traced to the German immigrants of the 1800s who made dachshund sausages. Not only did these immigrants bring sausages to America, but also dachshund dogs. Most likely, the name referred to Germans’ short, thin, long dogs. Also, frankfurters were often referred to as “little dogs” or “dachshund” sausages by Germans.

13. The name hot dog may have been coined during a Giants baseball game.

One story goes that the term “hot dog” was created in New York during a baseball game in 1902. Harry Mozley Stevens couldn’t sell ice cream and ice-cold sodas on a cold April day, so he sent his salesmen to go out to buy dachshund sausages and rolls. It wasn’t long before they were peddling hot dogs from portable hot water tanks, yelling, “They’re red hot! Get your dachshund sausages while they’re red hot!”

14. Yale students may have also created the term.

The term hot dog appeared in many university magazines, including Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Cornell, before 1900. For example, a poem appeared in the Yale Record on October 5, 1895, about the Kennel Club, a campus lunch wagon that sold sausages in buns.

15. An American president served hot dogs to Royal guests.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor served Nathan’s hot dogs to King George VI of England and his queen at a picnic in Hyde Park, New York, on June 11, 1939. 

16. Hot dogs are not a sandwich.

A rather passionate statement from the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council stated that hot dogs are not sandwiches.

“A hot dog is an exclamation of joy, a food, a verb describing one ‘showing off,’ and even an emoji. It is truly a category unto its own. Limiting the hot dog’s significance by saying it’s ‘just a sandwich is like calling the Dalai Lama ‘just a guy.’ Perhaps at one time, its importance could be limited by forcing it into a larger sandwich category (no disrespect to Reubens and others), but that time has passed,” NHDSC President Janet Riley said in 2015.

17. Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest became the most popular in the world.

Nathan’s 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest has been held every Independence Day at the original Coney Island hot dog stand since 1916. Four immigrants created the contest to settle a dispute over who was the most patriotic.

18. Why are wieners and sausages curved?

Butchers from Frankfurt, Germany, introduced a spiced and smoked sausage that came in a thin casing called “Frankfurter.” Curving the sausages was a specialty of a butcher that had a dachshund. Thus, the frankfurter became known as dachshund sausage in America.

19. Hot dogs appeared at the Pan-American Exposition.

The Pan-American Exposition was held in 1901 in Buffalo, New York. Visitors could buy hot dogs for 45 cents — which would be $9 in today’s currency.

20. A hot dog business owner left a profit of $1 million.

Charles Feltman established a mini hospitality empire on the Coney Island boardwalk, with a hotel, beer gardens, restaurants, food stands, a bathhouse, a pavilion, a Tyrolean village, and various rides to amuse his customers.  

His business, which started with selling hot dogs, was worth more than a million dollars when he died in 1910.

21. The success of the nickel hot dog.

Nathan Handwerker, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, worked for Charles Feltman slicing hot dog rolls. To save his $11 weekly wage, he slept on the kitchen floor and ate free hot dogs. 

In 1916, Handwerker, with a $300 loan, opened his own hot dog stand. He gave his customers a discount of five cents over Feltman’s hot dogs. As a result, Handwerker and his wife Ida founded Nathan’s Famous, Inc., which is dubbed the world’s largest hot dog manufacturer. 

22. Dog wagons at universities.

At major universities in the east, sausage vendors would sell their wares outside the residence halls, and their carts were called “dog wagons.” The sarcastic name implied the quality of the meat — the widespread belief that they used dog meat to make sausages. 

23. The hot dog bun was not created in St. Louis.

An urban legend says that in 1904, Bavarian Anton Feuchtwanger sold hot sausages on the streets of St. Louis, Missouri, and offered his customers white gloves to hold their sausages. Unfortunately, almost all of the gloves were not returned, and the stock began to run low. So he had his brother-in-law make long, soft rolls to fit the meat. 

However, that story is most likely false. Hot dog buns have been mentioned in printed news stories since 1843. Feuchtwanger likely took up the wiener trade in St. Louis to capitalize on the region’s large settlement of Germans of many dialects, religious affiliations, and sausage traditions.

24. Different ways people eat hot dogs.

Hot dogs have been served in infinite ways, leading to regional variations. For example, you can top your hot dog with cream cheese in Seattle or Coca-Cola grilled onions with reindeer dogs in Alaska. 

Icelandic lamb hot dogs are served with onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard, and remoulade. Chile’s ‘El Completo’ is a hot dog twice the size of its American counterpart, served with chopped tomatoes, avocados, sauerkraut, and a generous dollop of mayonnaise. 

25. Almost everyone in America eats hot dogs.

According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, hot dogs are eaten in 95% of American homes.

As you can see, the history of hot dogs is extensive and competitive. Everyone wants to be the author of something that has been famous for generations and is also considered a national food. So next time you have a hot dog, savor every bite thinking about these fun facts you just learned!

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This article was co-authored by our team of writers and editors who share one thing in common: their passion for food and drinks!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco works as a New York-based editor at Foodrinke, driven by his lifelong love for food. His culinary journey began in childhood, as he eagerly assisted his mother with her local sandwich and bakery business, relishing every opportunity to sample her creations. Known among family and friends as an easy eater, JC has a particular affinity for Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and Peruvian cuisine. At Foodrinke, he channels his passion for food into his work, sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge with readers.