A History the Hot Dog
The hot dog is as ubiquitous to New York as pizza, the steakhouse and the Statue of Liberty. While the roots of the hot dog stretch back to central Europe, it was on the boardwalks and streets of New York City that the hot dog became assimilated into American life, shedding its immigrants status and donning a stars and stripes waist coat.
Here’s a look back at the rich history of hot dogs:
Sausages and bread are among the oldest forms of processed food. German immigrants in New York City served frankfurters and wieners with milk rolls and sauerkraut from pushcarts on the Bowery starting in the 1860s onwards. Frankfurt, Germany and Vienna, Austria vie for ownership of the “original” hot dog recipe. But, just like pizza, an the hot dog was transformed and given greater significance in America. In 1871, German butcher Charles Feltman opened a hot dog stand in Coney Island, which was then an up-market destination for the affluent. It established Coney Island as ground zero for the hot dog.
While the wieners and franks sold in continental Europe tended to be a mixture of pork and beef, the hot dog in NYC became an all beef affair. The meat for these sausages is finely milled, stuffed into a natural intestinal casing (sheep works best), and then smoked. This was a major step in the development of the fast food concept since the hot dog only needed to be reheated at service and it could quickly boiled, griddled, or grilled.
Determining how exactly the term hot dog came about to be is, as with many such things, a murky proposition. The common claim that the term was coined by cartoonist Tad Dorgan in the New York Journal in 1901 does not reward scrutiny — for one thing, there is no record of the cartoon in question. More likely the term was adopted at Yale University in the mid-1890s to describe the sausages sold outside of the dormitories. Of course, Germans had referred to frankfurters as “little-dog” or “dachshund” sausages long before this — both as a reference to the shape — long and skinny — and derisively as to the possible origins of the meat.
Similarly, the hot dog bun has a disputed history. An oft-repeated claim is that it was invented in St. Louis at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904. However, the chances that someone made a sausage shaped bread and split it lengthwise at some point prior to this are the same as the percentage of beef in a NY style hot dog — 100%. It is fairly certain that the bun also came from Europe, but again the new world changed old world forms. The white, enriched mass-produced squishy hot dog bun, which is identical in every way but shape to the hamburger bun, is an American creation, and has come to define the hot dog as much as the sausage used.
Comfort foods such as the hamburger and pizza become culturally significant once they enter the popular zeitgeist, even more so if they embody the spirit of an age. The hot dog did this by the 20th century.
The hot dog craze spread across the nation, especially in baseball parks, through the end of the century. Comfort foods like the hamburger and pizza become culturally significant once they enter the popular culture, even more so if they embody the spirit of an age. The hot dog did this by the 20th century. While the recipe and the construction of the hot dog has its origins in Europe, the means and scale of production, and deliver mechanisms did not. The notion of nutritious, hot, fast food served on street corners, at ballparks, and in road side restaurants was a truly American innovation.
Regardless of how you like your hot dogs prepared or the topping you put on them or where you like to eat them, the hot dog remains an iconic symbol of America throughout the world.