The Story of Hot Dogs

Updated on July 11, 2020
Rupert Taylor profile image

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Americans eat 20 billion hot dogs per year.
Americans eat 20 billion hot dogs per year. | Source

One of the most popular foods in America, the hot dog has a long pedigree. It provides very low-cost protein—but a health food it isn’t.

Who Invented the Hot Dog?

To find the inventor of the hot dog we have to locate the inventor of the sausage.

It’s known that sausages existed almost 2,900 years ago because Homer mentions them in his epic poem The 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 …” But, the name of the first sausage maker is lost.

Centuries of culinary twists and turns produced the hot dog of today that both Germany and Austria claim as their invention.

In 1564, the coronation of Maximilian II as Holy Roman Emperor took place in Frankfurt and the monarch had been born in Vienna. At the celebratory banquet sausages called frankfurters were served; so, one point to Germany, although the country did not exist as such at the time.

But, Maximilian was from Vienna, from which comes another word for the hot dog―wiener; so, one point to Austria. Perhaps, the provenance of the hot dog should be declared a tie.


Iconic American Food

Political unrest in what was to become Germany in the middle of the 19th century caused many people to immigrate to the United States.

By 1860, the Library of Congress notes that “An estimated 1.3 million German-born immigrants resided in the United States; 200 German-language magazines and newspapers were published in this country; in St. Louis alone, there were seven German-language newspapers.” And, there were German sausages everywhere, in particular frankfurters/wieners.

And, this is where we meet Charles L. Feltman. He was a German immigrant to America who opened a bakery in Brooklyn in 1865 and made a living selling pies to businesses at Coney Island.

Around 1870, Feltman had a vending cart made with a charcoal burner on which he cooked frankfurters. He pulled his cart along the beach at Coney Island selling hot dogs in a bun at a nickel each. They were called “dachshund sausages” and were an immediate success.


As the BBC reports, within a short space of time Feltman’s humble cart “had grown into a full-on empire spanning an entire block–complete with nine restaurants, a roller coaster, carousel, ballroom, outdoor movie theatre, hotel, beer garden, bathhouse, pavilion, and Alpine village that once hosted U.S. President William Howard Taft.”

Soon, Feltman was selling 40,000 hot dogs a day. His sons took over the business and, by the 1920s, Feltman’s was thought to be the biggest restaurant in the world.

The success of the hot dog was duly noted and hundreds of competitors arrived in the marketplace.


What's in a Hot Dog? The Ingredients Revealed

There’s a poll floating about on the internet that says that 43 percent of Americans really don’t want to know what’s in hot dogs. In some cases, it’s not very appetizing. It’s obvious that a 39-cent wiener isn’t going to be made of pork loin, prime rib, or chicken breast.

The phrase “mechanically-separated meat” crops up; this means that after meat cutters have removed the steaks and other juicy bits, the scraps are “recovered.” The BBC describes how “It is pressure-blasted off the bones by machinery and forms a reddish slurry …” Had enough yet? Want more? Okay.

Salt is added to the crimson goo followed by nitrites and nitrates. Then, comes the chemistry lesson producing ingredients with names such as autolyzed yeast extract, maltodextrin, sodium erythorbate, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein.

Each manufacturer has its own flavour recipes―garlic, celery powder, paprika, coriander, cinnamon, allspice, cumin, and nutmeg, are likely to turn up in varying concentrations.


The whole mixture is whirled around in industrial-sized food processors until it’s reduced to a paste that is then stuffed into casings. Sometimes, the casings are made from sheep’s intestines, at other times cellulose is pressed into service. But, cellulose is indigestible unless you have a complex, four-chamber stomach like a cow.

In 2015, a company called Clear Labs announced it had found traces of human DNA in some hot dog samples. Panic ensued. Had the mob found a way of slipping inconvenient rivals into the food chain? Did an inattentive worker tumble into a vat of goo unnoticed?

The New York Times attempted to put the public’s minds at rest: “There’s no evidence that hot-dog lovers are unwitting cannibals. It’s more a matter of hygiene in food production. The tiniest particles of hair, nails, and skin could show up in these tests.”

That’s really comforting to know.

Are Hot Dogs Healthy?

Checking in with dietitian Keri Glassman is a little unsettling for lovers of processed meats such as hot dogs. Ms. Glassman has a long string of qualifications related to clinical nutrition and says “Regularly eating processed meats is associated with serious health risks …” However, she stops short of saying “Never eat wieners at the ball park.”

Some of the risks she notes are:

  • High levels of sodium that is connected to heart disease;
  • “Research shows regularly eating processed meats (like hot dogs) raises your risk of certain cancers, like stomach, bladder, breast, and especially colorectal;” and,
  • Grilling meat at high temperatures can create cancer-causing compounds.

Ms. Glassman’s is not alone in issuing warnings about frankfurters. Here’s nutritionist Leslie Beck in The Globe and Mail: “Hot dogs aren’t exactly nutritious―not even close. They’re made of processed meat and they’re loaded with cholesterol-raising saturated fat and sodium.”

Ms. Beck also advises against regular consumption of processed meats; it’s okay once in a while, just not daily or even weekly.

Almost three quarters of Americans say their favourite hot dog garnish is mustard.
Almost three quarters of Americans say their favourite hot dog garnish is mustard. | Source

Bonus Factoids

  • Antonoine Feuchtwanger was a sausage vendor in St. Louis in the late 19th century. In the traditional German manner, his sausages were served without buns, but customers were given white gloves so they didn’t burn their hands. But, the gloves kept disappearing, so Feuchtwanger started serving his sausages in buns. He called them “red hots.”
  • The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council says that “On Independence Day, Americans will enjoy 150 million hot dogs, enough to stretch from D.C. to L.A. more than five times.”
  • The name “hot dog” may have developed from rumours that in the early days the meat in them came from dodgy sources. Woof, woof?

Hmmm? | Source
  • A polish immigrant called Nathan Handwerker was employed by the Feltman family at its Coney Island restaurant. He scrimped and saved until he had enough money to open his own hot dog stand a few blocks away from Feltman’s. Nathan’s Famous eclipsed Feltman’s and now holds an annual Fourth of July hot dog eating contest. In 2020, Joey Chestnut won the contest for the 13th time. He drove down 75 hot dogs and buns (and kept them down) in 10 minutes―a new world record. You can watch, but it’s not pretty.


  • “The Germans in America.” Library of Congress, April 23, 2014.
  • “How Sausages Conquered the Globe.” Igor Stramyk, The, October 21, 2016.
  • “A Brief History of the Hot Dog.” Alexia Wulff,, November 14, 2016.
  • “The Truth About the U.S.’ Most Iconic Food.” Julia Hammond, BBC Travel, June 27, 2020.
  • “From the Odyssey to Kobayashi: A Brief History of the Hot Dog.” Carmel Lobello, The Week, July 4, 2013.
  • “No, Hot Dogs Do not Contain Human Meat.” Jonah Engel Bromwich, New York Times, November 5, 2015.
  • “Are all Hot Dogs Unhealthy?” Keri Glassman, Nutritious Life, undated.
  • “IARC Monographs Evaluate Consumption of Red Meat and Processed Meat.” Press Release, October 26, 2015.
  • “Why Hot Dogs Are not Exactly Man’s Best Friend.” Leslie Beck, Globe and Mail, July 1, 2013.

© 2020 Rupert Taylor


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Rupert Taylor profile imageAUTHOR

      Rupert Taylor 

      3 weeks ago from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

      Lorelei - You are quite right to advise people to read the label. Some hot dogs do contain meat byproducts such as heart or liver, which in themselves are perfectly okay to eat. Some people just don't like the idea of them.

      Years ago, I tried to interest my sons in eating veggie hot dogs. Harsh words such as "child abuse" were bandied about.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      3 weeks ago from Canada

      Years ago a person who worked in the meat department told me how to select a "GOOD" hotdog, this meaning one without meat byproducts in it. I don't think these are allowed any longer but I still read the ingredient list on the hotdogs I purchase. I love my hotdogs over an open fire yum!

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      3 weeks ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Rupert, I am not a regular process meat eater, and so, hot dogs are out of my menu. But while making homemade breads, I would use part of the dough to make hot dogs with real meat extracts. That is more nutritious. But I noted in later history of the hot dog that soya beam was process into meat flavor and used with some brands. A man to cosume 75 piece of hot dogs in less than 15 minutes is terrific! Thanks for sharing.

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 

      3 weeks ago from California, United States of America

      I've eaten lots of hot dogs but didn't know a lot about them. Interesting stuff.

      I wonder if the name "hot dog" is some kind of reference to dachshund and the term "red hots". Just speculating.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)