How German Immigrants Brought Hot Dogs To The US

When many people think of "American food," their mind conjures up cliché images of simple comfort foods: bright orange instant macaroni and cheese, hamburgers with a side of fries, deep dish and frozen pizza, and of course, hot dogs.

A fourth of July favorite, the wiener wrapped in a soft bun is so popular in the United States that each region offers its own style of hot dog, from the beef-chili topped Detroit Coney Hot Dog to the classic, freshly-boiled New York street hot dog. And despite the recent inflation of food prices across America, popular purchase-in-bulk chain Costco remains committed to keeping their hot dog and soda combination at a low and affordable $1.50.

But as with many so-called "American" foods, the true origins of the hot dog are linked with German immigrants — though the precursor to the hot dog goes back even further in human history.

Sausages in ancient Rome

The sausage has been on record for thousands of years; the ancient Greek poet Homer wrote of it in his epic Odyssey, which dates to 850 BC. Centuries later, legend has it that a man called Gaius, cook for Roman Emperor Nero, was the first to create sausage links by way of a happy accident, as reports What's Cooking America.

Gaius allegedly ran a knife through the stomach of a roasted pig to check if it were clean to eat and inside found puffed up and hollow intestines (pigs were, at the time, starved a week prior to consumption). In an ingenious move, the cook then took the intestines and stuffed them with ground meat, spices, and cooked ground wheat, before twisting the creation off into links. 

However, the first recorded mention of a "string of sausages" did not come along until hundreds of years later in the 7th century. Fast forward a few hundred years, and during the 15th century, the frankfurter was created in Germany.

The German Hot Dog

Hot dogs go by many names, but the origin of the word sausage is derived from the Latin word salus, which means salted, referring to the process of making it, as reports Britannica. Similarly, salami comes from the Italian word salare, to salt, while other names for sausage like frankfurter and bologna come from the city names of their origin.

Sausages are seasoned and finely chopped meat that is typically stuffed into an encasing — usually the intestines. Such sausages were first seen as "small puddings", versus a large pudding, which was a meat-filled stomach, also known as a haggis, per BBC Ideas, which is also the national dish of Scotland. 

However, in the United States, the hot dog came to be because one German immigrant who sold hot dogs out of a pushcart in the 1860s called their sausages "little dogs". This name was a tongue-in-cheek reference to both the similarity of shape to the dachshund (a German dog breed) as well as a nod to the fact that some Americans were suspicious of the sausages because of the German habit of eating dog meat (via The Culture Trip and History Daily).

Hot dogs take over Coney Island and America

Soon after little dachshunds were sold, another German immigrant, Charles Feltman, began selling hot dogs wrapped in buns on Coney Island in 1870. This entrepreneurial endeavor was a hit, and in that first year, he sold an average of nearly ten hot dogs a day, per The Culture Trip.

Hot dogs then continued to make their way to the masses through the American love of sport: baseball. It's believed that another German businessman, Chris von der Ahe, who owned the St. Louis Brown Stockings (now the St. Louis Cardinals), started selling hot dogs and beer. However, others claim an Englishman named Harry Stevens was the one who brokered the deal to get the sausage snack sold at stadiums (via BBC).

Soon after, hot dogs were on their way to the national stage thanks to another entrepreneurial immigrant, Nathan Handwerker, a Polish Jewish man. History reports after working at a hot dog stand in Coney Island, he decided to undercut the competition and sell his own hot dogs at half the price, giving birth to Nathan's Famous hot dog.