Origins of the Hot Dog

The origin of the word "hot dog" stirs as much debate as the existence of UFOs. Conflicting stories abound and everyone wants to claim ownership of the catchy moniker of America's favorite food.

Why are there so many stories about how the hot dog got its name and who invented the hot dog bun? Could there be a conspiracy involved?

The truth is out there and with the help of avid hot dog historians and linguists, the Council set out to find that truth.

The infamous story about cartoonist Tad Dorgan of New York Journal?

"Forget about it," says Bruce Kraig, Ph.D., hot dog historian and professor emeritus at Roosevelt University in Illinois.

As the legend goes, Dorgan observed vendor Harry Stevens selling the "hot dachshund sausages" during a game at the New York Polo Grounds and shouting "Get your red-hot dachshund sausages!" Dorgan illustrated this scene with a dachshund dog nestled in a bun with the caption "get your hot dogs."

No one has found a copy of the cartoon said to have given the hot dog its name. Maybe the cartoon never existed. Or maybe it is buried deep within the National Archives or the maze of the Pentagon.

Kraig suggests the cartoon began as a joke between Dorgan and the vendor who were reputedly good friends, but was by no means the first reference to "hot dogs." In fact, one report the Council came across suggested the story may have come from Stevens' obituary in the New York Herald on May 4, 1934, in which the events are recorded.

But references to dachshund sausages and ultimately hot dogs can be traced to German immigrants in the 1800s. German immigrants brought not only the sausage with them in the late 1800s, but also dachshund dogs. Kraig says the name hot dog probably began as a joke about the Germans' small, long, thin dogs. Ever the butt of humor and rumor, the moniker that stuck was likely a joke regarding the provenance of the tasty sausage served on a bun cut lengthwise.

Barry Popick, a prominent hot dog historian and linguist at the university, says the word "hot dog" began appearing in college magazines in the 1890s. Students at Yale University began to refer to the wagons selling hot sausages in buns outside their dorms as "dog wagons." Kraig said one of the popular stands was dubbed even "The Kennel Club." It didn't take long for the use of the word "dog" to become "hot dog." Popick found the first reference to "hot dogs" in an article published in the October 19, 1895, issue of the Yale Record which referred to folks "contentedly munching on hot dogs."

The equally infamous story about the vendor who loaned his customers white gloves to hold the hot sausages, but ultimately implored a local baker to design a bun?

Not a chance, says Kraig. "Everyone wants to claim ownership of this invention," he said.

But the truth is that Germans have been eating their "little dog" sausages with bread for ages, Kraig said. Some reports say German immigrants first sold them from push carts in New York City's Bowery in the 1860s. Another story claims Charles Feltman, a German butcher in 1871, served the sausages with milk rolls from his stand on Coney Island. The hot dog bun made its popular debut at the Colombian Exposition where visitors enjoyed large quantities of the sausages. Since the sausage culture is German, it is likely that Germans introduced the practice of eating the dachshund sausages, which we today know as the hot dog, nestled in a bun.

While the hot dog's precise history may never be known, perhaps it is this mystery that adds to the hot dog's mystique and has helped the hot dog maintain its position as one of America's favorite foods!