The Name “Hot Dog” Was Not Coined at a New York Giants Baseball Game

Myth: “Hot dog” was coined at a New York Giants baseball game.

You’ll often hear that the name “hot dog” comes from a cartoon drawn by T.A. Dorgan during a New York Giants baseball game at the Polo Grounds around 1902-1906 (date varies depending on who’s telling the story). At this game, he supposedly observed a vendor, Harry Stevens, selling “hot dachshund sausages”. Dorgan, being inspired by this, drew a dachshund in a hot dog bun, but didn’t know how to spell dachshund, so just wrote “hot dog”.

As nice of a “word origin” story as this is, it’s completely false. To date, no record of the cartoon in question has ever been found, but whether it ever existed or not doesn’t matter; the term “hot dog”, referring to a form of sausage in a bun, had been commonly known at least 10 years before Dorgan supposedly drew that cartoon. Specifically, the first documented references to “hot dogs” were in a September 28, 1893 Knoxville Journal and in an October 19, 1895 edition of the Yale Record that contained a reference to “The Kennel Club”, which was a lunch wagon on campus that sold hot sausages in buns, which were referred to as “hot dogs”.

So where did the term “hot dog” actually come from? Dating back at least as early as the 1880s, it became common to call sausages “dogs”, due to the fact that people never knew exactly what meat was included in the sausages they were buying. Around that time, there were a lot of rumors that horse and dog meat were being commonly used to make sausages (there was even a song about this written in 1860 and the first documented accusations of dog meat being used in sausages is from 1845).

Though the university student’s clearly didn’t invent the name, it is thought that it was college students that popularized the name as referring to hot sausages in buns. Around this time, lunch wagons serving hot sausages in buns became common on college campuses (the bun being added so people could eat the hot sausages while they walked between classes). These lunch wagons were somewhat similar in quality of food to modern day “roach coaches”, so the students took to calling them “dog wagons” with their product being “hot dogs”, referring to the rumor that low-quality sausages were made from dog meat.

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Bonus Facts:

  • The world’s most expensive hot dog ($69) was made by Chef Joe Calderone, who was making a special hot dog for one of his customers, Trudy Tant. This hot dog was made with truffle oil, duck foie gras, and truffle butter.
  • The world record for the longest hot dog is 196.85 feet (60 m). It was placed inside of a 197.83 foot (60.3 m) bun. The hot dog was made in 2006 by Shizuoka Meat Producers for the All-Japan Bread Association who subsequently baked the bun.
  • Other common names for hotdogs are: frankfurter, frank, wiener, weenie, durger, dog, or red hot.
  • The name “frankfurter” comes from the fact that a popular hot dog-like sausage was originally made in Frankfurt Germany (Frankfurter meaning “of Frankfurt”). The name was brought over to America sometime in the late 19th century from German immigrants who were familiar with the Frankfurter sausage.
  • It isn’t known exactly when somebody first got the bright idea to put sausages in a bun, however, the first historical reference of sausages themselves goes all the way back to one of the first books ever written, Homer’s Odyssey: “As when a man besides a great fire has filled a sausage with fat and blood and turns it this way and that and is very eager to get it quickly roasted… “
  • While it is unlikely that the practice of putting sausages in some sort of bread only happened recently (bread being a staple food throughout history and sausages being relatively popular in many cultures), the first recorded instances of sausages being sold encased in bread come from around the 1860s where various German immigrants sold frankfurters with milk rolls and sauerkraut on the streets of New York City. There are numerous stories of people having claimed to be the first to put the sausage in a bun, but nobody knows for sure which, if any, are true. A common theme among all of these stories is that the idea behind the bun was to be able to serve the hot dogs to customers on the streets without the customers burning their hands on the hot sausages.
  • Around 25-30 million hot dogs are consumed annually in Major League Baseball parks in the United States and Canada.
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