It’s hard to think of a more iconic American food than a hot dog on a bun. But in order to understand the history of this humble food, we need to look back in time, and also in several different cities across the nation.
Most historians and experts agree that it was the Coney Island, Brooklyn-based Charles Feltman who was the first to serve the predecessor to the modern hot dog. In 1867, He had been working his food wagon where he sold his fares on the street when he decided to start selling “dachshund sausages in milk rolls.” He went on from there to open a sausage stand and then a huge beer garden and restaurant, all in his beloved Brooklyn.
The next big moment for hot dogs was the year 1893. This was the year that Chicago opened its gates to the Columbian Exposition, a hugely important fair that brought visitors from all over the country. Here, the “dachshund sausage,” was served in bread to thousands of the fair-goers, who went on to spread the word far and wide.
Further cementing the cultural importance of the food, the year 1893 was also when baseball stadiums started serving them to the crowds. This was purported to have been started by the owner of the St. Louis team, who had made the meat famous by serving it in his bar.
The most iconic moment in the history would have to be the actual development of the name itself. How did this peculiar title come about? The story is that a sports humorist overheard a sausage vendor walking around a game at the New York Polo Grounds in 1901: “Get your dachshund sausages while they’re red hot.” The humorist was inspired to sketch a little dog being served in a roll. He wrote the caption as “hot dog!” and the name for the food was born!
An elevated moment for the usually casual fare took place in 1939. That was in the heart of the great depression, and the White House was helmed by FDR and his wife Eleanor. They made headlines with their decision to serve guests and residents of the presidential home with fare that average families in the nation would have been able to afford. In light of this, the president and his wife served The King and Queen of England with hot dogs for one of the meals during their two-day state visit.
By now, hot dogs can be found from coast to coast in the US. Let’s take a look at some popular styles out there today:
New York City: Boiled Kosher hot dog with soft bun, onion sauce, and deli mustard—or sauerkraut.
Cincinnati: Hot Dog with chili cheddar, diced onions, and mustard.
Chicago: Hot Dog in a poppy-seed bun, with mustard, onions, pickles, relish, tomato, and peppers.
Los Angeles: Steamed, foot-long, with yellow mustard and relish.
Texas Dog: Hot dog on a stick, battered and deep-fried, with yellow mustard.
Carolina Dog: Steamed hot dog, with a steamed bun, with vinegar slaw.
Seattle: Topped with cream cheese and sauteed onions
Boston: Boiled and grilled, on a potato roll, with mustard and relish.