Hot Dogs and Home Runs: A Brief History of America’s Favorite Ballpark Snack

Baseball Player

America’s ballparks may have veered towards more upscale fare in terms of stadium food like sushi or deep dish pizzas, but one staple that’ll never be phased out is the good old hot dog. Whether skewered on a stick or nestled between buns topped with ketchup, mustard, and sauerkraut, no self-respecting ballpark can operate without offering at least three varieties of these tasty treats.

Hot dogs, in fact, enjoy an almost cult-like status in American society with a number of changes vendors have introduced over the years. The hot dog you’ll get even depends on which ballpark you’re in: From Fenway Franks and the Cubs’ Wrigley Dog to the Halo Dog and the Pastrami Sausages, the list goes on. There are few foods with such a close association with an aspect of American culture as the humble hot dog.

A Hot Topic

How did hot dogs become such a ballpark favorite? The ‘dog tradition has multiple accounts of its origin, but nearly all agree that European immigrants were responsible for introducing it to baseball audiences – two of them, specifically. One of them started in the 1890s when German immigrant Chris Von de Ahe sold pork tubes in a St. Louis ballpark.

Another story credits a British gentleman called Harry M. Stevens who switched from peddling ice cream to “dachshund sausages,” by his own description. This doubles as an origin story for the food’s modern name, as a cartoonist who was allegedly baffled with spelling “dachshund” resorted to the simpler term “hot dog.”

Name That (Hot) Dog

Many people are still confused by the differences between a hot dog, a frankfurter, and a wiener. While all three appear similar and their terms are even used interchangeably sometimes, two of them are marked by the places of their origin (the German city of Frankfurt, and the Austrian city of Vienna or Wien). But what apparently makes a hot dog a hot dog is the bun factor, and its own contested history as its backdrop.

A Tale of Two Peddlers

The originator of the hot-dog-on-a-bun is a hot topic for hot dog historians. One group credits a St. Louis peddler called Antonoine Feuchtwanger for the invention. Mr. Feuchtwanger sold his hot sausages with white gloves to protect customers from burns. Feuchtwanger’s profits dropped when folks failed to return his gloves, giving his wife a brilliant idea: put the sausages in buns, which Feuchtwanger called “red hots.”

Another group of hot dog history buffs claims it was a German butcher called Charles Feltman who originally sold sausages wrapped in hot rolls in Brooklyn’s Coney Island. Feltman turned his pie-wagon wares into a booming food business, but was eventually undercut by one of his own employees, Nathan Handwerker. Mr. Handwerker opened his own hot dog stand in 1916 charging for half the price of Feltman’s dogs. This paved the way for Handwerker’s success.

Today, Americans celebrate National Hot Dog Month every July, where 10% of hot dog sales occur. Even baseball icon Babe Ruth was known to scarf down a dozen hot dogs (along with eight bottles of soda) in one instance of doubleheader games.

Such a rich history is enough to make you want to grab a quick bite of a hot dog or even start your own hot dog franchise. It may take a dozen history buffs to pinpoint hot dog genesis, but it only takes one visit to the nearest stadium to taste that hot, flavorful legacy entwined with the noise of an enthusiastic ball game crowd.