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Frankophilia: The Hot Dog Creation Myth

"I never, ever eat anything for health reasons. I eat for taste." René Redzepi, chef/owner of Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, called by many the world's finest restaurant

Everything about the history of the hot dog is controversial. The experts disagree on where and when it was invented, where and when it was first served on a bun, and where and when it was named a hot dog. Fact is, nobody knows none of this for sure. What we do know is that there are a lot of myths out there.

Cartoon "I wonder which was father?"

Let's begin with the creation myth. There are many who claim to have invented the hot dog in the US, but franks almost certainly came from the sausage centric culture in Germany. Germany is known for its wurst (sausages), making dozens of styles, and Frankfurt-am-Main is a big part of that culture. Frankfurt makes a good claim to having invented the frankfurter in 1484.

According to one story, franks were first served in the US when St. Louis Browns owner Chris von der Ahe sold them at his baseball park in the 1880s. Others say Oscar Meyer sold the first frankfurter in the US at the Columbian Exposition, a world's fair in Chicago in 1893. Others claim it was the founders of the Vienna Beef Co., Emil Reichl and Samuel Ladanyi that dished out the first franks at the 1893 Fair.

There is also controversy over who first placed the sausage on a bun. One story claims that Charles Feltman, a merchant at the amusement park on Coney Island, NY first put a sausage on a roll in 1871. Another story declares that at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 a vendor selling wieners as a snack food straight up, loaned customers white gloves to keep their fingers clean. When the gloves went missing, he asked a baker to create a bun for him.

More likely Germans were the first to put sausage on bread.

How did the hot dog get its name? There are a number of myths surrounding this mystery, too. The most widely circulated myth is that the moniker was coined in 1901 at a baseball game in New York City. Legend has it that on a chilly day a concessionaire shouted, "They're red hot! Get your dachshund sausages while they're red hot." The great New York Journal cartoonist TA Dorgan drew a barking dachshund sausage nestled in a roll. Not sure how to spell "dachshund," he labeled it a "hot dog." No such cartoon has ever been found. Cool story, but unsupported by the facts.

One story holds that Johann Georghehner, a butcher living in Coburg, Germany, first called sausages "dachsunds" or "little dogs" in the 1690s. This, by far the oldest claim, is hard to document, but sounds plausible.

It is possible that the name emerged from a familiar children's tune written by Septimus Winner in 1864. It put into verse a frequent joke about what sausages were made of. The rest of the song tells the story of a drunk named Deitcher, his lost dog, and what may have happened to him. You know the first verse, so sing along:

Der Deitcher's Dog

Oh where, Oh where is mine little dog gone,

Oh where, Oh where can he be.

His ears cut short und his tail cut long:

Oh where, Oh where, ish he.

I loves mine lager 'tish very goot beer,

Oh where, Oh where can he be.

But mit no money I cannot drink here,

Oh where, Oh where ish he.

Across the ocean in Garmanie,

Oh where, Oh where can he be.

Der Deitchers dog ish der best companie.

Oh where, Oh where ish he.

Un sasage ist goot, bolonie of course,

Oh where, Oh where can he be.

Dey makes um mit dog und dey makes em mit horse,

I guess de makes em mit he.

Others attribute the origin of the name to the October 5, 1895 edition of the Yale Record. It included the following hot doggerel about "The Kennel Club," a popular campus lunch wagon that sold sausages in buns:

Echoes from the Lunch Wagon

"'Tis dogs' delight to bark and bite,"

Thus does the adage run.

But I delight to bite the dog

When placed inside a bun.

Two weeks later, the Yale Record printed a wacky bit of fiction about the lunch wagon being stolen, with its owner onboard. He awoke to find himself and his cart at a chapel where he took advantage of the situation by selling his wares to churchgoers who "contentedly munched hot dogs during the whole service."

According to Professor Bruce Kraig of Roosevelt University in Chicago in his authoritative book Hot Dog: A Global History. the first recorded use of the term hot dog was in the September 28, 1893 edition of the Knoxville Journal "Even the wienerwurst men began preparing to get the 'hot dogs' ready for sale Saturday night."

Hot dogs were most commonly called frankfurters until World War I, when the war with Germany motivated patriots to drop the name (see "freedom fries"). Within a few years of the end of the war in 1918, because of their taste, price, and convenience, hot dogs became the first fast food and, as American as Apple Pie, and they were served at baseball games, boxing matches, horse races, circuses, carnies, and fairs.

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