The hot dog: an all-American treat with German origins

Americans purchase an estimated 9 billion hot dogs at retail stores each year. From sporting events to late-night eateries to street vendor carts in New York City, hot dogs are widespread in the US. Although the modern-day American hot dog differs from German-style sausages such as Currywurst or Bratwurst, its origins can be at least partially traced to Germany.

Europeans have produced sausages for centuries; Homer’s Odyssey traces the consumption of sausage back to the 9th Century B.C. and there is evidence that sausages were prevalent in the Holy Roman Empire. Although sausages were widespread in Europe, both Germans and Austrians take credit for the origin of the so-called Frankfurter or Wiener – the predecessors of the American hot dog.

Most sources credit Johann Georg Lahner as the inventor of these particular sausages. Lahner was born in 1772 in Gasseldorf, Germany – a small town in Bavaria. As an adult, he moved to Frankfurt, where he was employed as a butcher. He later moved to Vienna, Austria, where he allegedly invented the sausage by combining beef and pork. Lahner called them Frankfurters, after the city he previously lived in. Today, however, Germans refer to the hot dog sausages as Wiener, while Austrians call them Frankfurter. Both Vienna (in German: Wien) and Frankfurt claim credit for the origin of the hot dog.

When European immigrants came to the US in the 1800s, they brought hot dog-style sausages to the US. It is likely that there were multiple butchers of several nationalities who first sold these snacks in the US, but one of them was German immigrant Charles Feltman. In the late 1800s, Feltman opened a hot dog stand in Coney Island, New York City, selling the sausages in a milk roll. The hot dogs quickly became popular, since they were easy and convenient to eat; Feltman sold several thousand in the first year alone.

A number of other German immigrants played a role in the evolution and spread of the American hot dog: German immigrant Anton Feuchtwanger, who sold hot dogs in the midwest, is credited for combining the hot dog with a bun. The use of a bun was meant to prevent customers from burning their hands on the hot dogs. Chris von der Ahe, a German immigrant who owned the St. Louis Browns, brought hot dogs to baseball stadiums.

While hot dog sausages can be traced back to the Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, Germans undoubtedly played a role in popularizing this quick and easy snack in both Europe and the US.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

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