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Why are hot dogs called so?

It was raining yesterday evening, and I was sitting out in my garden, remembering old memories in the rain. I recalled a time, when it was raining heavily, and I had gone to a popular hot dog place in Baroda – Frig Temp, with a friend. That place is quite a legend in the city, and its hot dogs would take most Barodians down the memory lane. That got me thinking, what makes a hot dog a hot dog? Why the weird name. There is an abundance of jokes calling the hot dog in the vernacular languages as a ‘Garam Kutta’ or a ‘Garam Kutru’ too. So, why the unique name then? Surely vegetarian hot dogs were just a convenience for vegetarians like me, the dish originally was sure to be non-vegetarian. Sure got me thinking,

Upon looking up it up and talking to some food anthropologists as well as hot dog lovers, I discovered that the origin of the word is just about as controversial as UFOs. Everyone wants a slice of the credit pie when it comes to the history of one of America’s favorite street food.

One story goes that renowned New York Journal cartoonist Tad Dorgan once observed a vendor – Harry Stevens sell ‘hot dachshund’ sausages when a game was going on at the New York Polo Ground. Stevens was shouting out then ‘Get your red hot dachshund sausages. Dorgan went on to capture the scene in a cartoon he created with a dachshund dog nestled inside a long bun with the caption ‘Get your hot dogs’. Incidentally, no one has found a copy of this cartoon which many claim to be the origin of the name ‘hot dog’. It could be buried deep inside the National Archives or maybe even at the Pentagon, nobody knows.

Professor Bruce Kraig, Ph.D., hot dog historian and professor emeritus at the Roosevelt University in Illinois suggests that the cartoon was a joke between Dorgan and Stevens who were actually good friends, but he feels this wasn’t the first reference for the term ‘hot dog’. An alternate story also claims that the events of the day were reported in Stevens’ obituary on May 4, 1934.

A little more digging reveals that references to dachshund sausages and hot dogs can be traced back to German immigrants as back as the 1800s. When the German immigrants came along they not only brought the sausages with them, but they also brought in dachshund dogs. The term hot dog, according to Professor Kraig, began as a joke about these small, long and thing German dachshund dogs. The joke stuck apparently and got extended to a tasty sausage served on a bun cut length-wise.

Another prominent hot dog historian and linguist at Yale University – Barry Popick says the term ‘hot dog’ began appearing in college magazines in the 1890s. The university students began referring to the wagons selling hot sausages in buns outside their dorms as ‘dog wagons’. Such was the popularity of the term that one of the wagons was even called as ‘The Kennel Club’. According to Barry Popick, an article published in the 19 October 1895 issue of the Yale Record is probably the first reference to the term ‘hot dog’, in a sentence as – ‘contentedly munching on hot dogs’.

The Germans have been eating their ‘little dog’ sausages with bread for ages. There are some reports that say that the German immigrants first sold the dog sausages in push carts in New York City’s Bowery in the 1860s.

There is another story which says that Charles Feltman, a German butcher in 1871 served sausages with milk rolls from his stand on Coney Island. The hot dog bun made its popular debut at the Colombian Exposition, where the visitors are said to have enjoyed large quantities of sausages – about 3684 to be precise.

In 1987, the city of Frankfurt celebrated the 500th birthday of hot dog in the city. It’s said that the frankfurter was developed there in 1487, five years before Christopher Columbus set sail for the new world. The people of Vienna (Wien), Austria, point to the term “wiener” to prove their claim as the birthplace of the hot dog. As it turns out, it is likely that the North American hot dog comes from a widespread common European sausage brought here by butchers of several nationalities.

An alternate story, though not very widely accepted that the hot dog on a bun was introduced during the St. Louis ‘Louisiana Purchase Exposition’ in 1904 by Bavarian concessionaire, Anton Feuchtwanger. According to this story, Anton loaned his white gloves to his patrons for holding his piping hot sausages. However, most of the gloves were not returned, which led to a shortage of gloves for the patrons. Eventually, he asked his brother-in-law who was a baker to help him out. The baker fashioned long soft rolls that would fit the sausages, thereby together inventing the hot dogs.

Well, the story could be really anything, but a hot dog is a delicious street food and a favorite dish for countless people across the world, especially Americans.

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