The Real Hot Dog Kings

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Hot dogs. As of this week they’re not only a must at the baseball game or Ikea, nope, Burger King has the best hot dogs! At least that’s how Alex Macedo, President of the U.S. Burger King empire, likes to see it: “We want this to be the Whopper of hot dogs and America’s favorite hot dog.” Amen, brother!

Burger King has expanded its exquisite menu with the popular American snack. Americans scarf down approx. 20 billion hot dogs a year. With those numbers it’s not a bad idea to serve hot dogs. Although eating better doesn’t seem to be a viable option – McDonald’s failed miserably with its organic burger. In Germany the “bio burger” was discontinued after four months. Customers’ good intentions just weren’t big enough.

Yet the hot dog hasn’t really earned its relationship with Burger King. And its story is much more exciting than anything Snoop Dogg dressed as a Burger King employee says in this spot.

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The hot dog’s predecessor originated in – ready for it? – Germany, not Denmark: the Frankfurter Würstchen, or little Frankfurt sausage. In English these are called frankfurters or “franks” for short. Invented by the Coburg butcher, Johann Georg Hehner, the sausage traveled to Frankfurt, garnering more prominence and its very name. Shaped like a dachsund, the frankfurter was affectionately called Dackelwurst or Dachshundwurst, not to be confused with the Wienerwurst or Vienna sausage, a.k.a. “wieners.” German immigrants brought the sausage with them to the U.S., where nobody could pronounce Dachshundwurst, giving rise to the catchy “hot dog.” And whether you like it or not, well into the 20th century dog meat was on the menu throughout Germany. That is, eating dogs isn’t just an East Asian phenomenon.

As for who first put the hot dog in a bun, nobody knows for sure. But three names are worth mentioning. In 1867 Charles Feltman left Hannover for Brooklyn, hot dog recipe in tow. The butcher opened his first hot dog stand in 1867 in Coney Island. In his first year of business he sold around 4,000 hot dogs and would go on to own several restaurants.

Feltman had an employee named Nathan Handwerker. The son of a poor Polish Jewish shoemaker, Handwerker immigrated to the U.S. in 1912, working first as a delivery boy and then for Feltman cutting hot dog buns. I can do better than this, thought Handwerker, and with his wife, Ida, they scraped together their life savings of $300 and set up shop as Feltman’s competitor. They opened a small hot dog stand in Coney Island, seasoned their hot dogs according to Ida’s secret recipe and sold them for five cents each – half as much as Feltman’s dogs. And so began Nathan’s Famous, one of the biggest hot dog chains in NYC and organizer of the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

The third entrepreneur was Anton Ludwig Feuchtwanger, a Bavarian immigrant who lived in St. Louis, Missouri. Because hot dogs were in fact very hot, he gave his customers gloves to keep their fingers from burning. More often than not he didn’t get the gloves back which ended up costing him a pretty penny. This led his wife in 1880 to the genius idea of putting the hot dogs in a bun. Lucky for him his brother-in-law was a baker. The Feuchtwangers were very ambitious, presenting their “red dogs” in 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair, which launched them into the national market.

With a simple sausage in a bun these three men managed to make their American Dream a reality. Sorry, Burger King, but you just can’t compete with that. If you ever intend to contribute something more to human history than unethical junk food you have to cook up more than punny advertising with Snoop Dogg.



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