The hot dog is a staple of American popular culture and is one of the most consumed snack foods in the world. Simple, humble and delicious, the hot dog has mysterious origins that might go back millennia. The invention of the modern hot dog is also a matter of debate. Who first made it? And where does its name come from? It has something to do with dogs, but it might not be what you imagine!


The oldest reference to a sausage is probably the one found in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, written in the 7th century BC. According to tradition, centuries later Roman Emperor Nero’s cook re-discovered the sausage after stuffing pork intestines with meat and spices. Over time, sausages became popular all over Europe.

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Although Germans adopted sausages as their national dish, both Frankfurt and Vienna claim to be the place where hot dogs were invented. It’s hard to say who is right there, since the credit has gone to several names; among them, Johann Georg Hehner, Emil Reichel and Sam Ladany. Johann Georg Hehner was a German butcher who allegedly sold his hot dogs in Frankfurt in the late 1600s. Reichel and Ladany were Austro-Hungarian immigrants in America who had a hot dog cart at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. Even if they didn’t invent hot dogs, they probably were the first to serve them with what would become the hot dog signature toppings: green relish, dill pickle spears, tomato slices, pickled peppers and celery salt. In the late 1800s, hot dogs became a good start-up business for immigrants in the US and an affordable street food favourite.


There are several myths about how the hot dog got its name. Germans used to call them ‘dachshund sausages’ because they thought they looked like this (also German) dog. One popular story —which hasn’t been proven— says that hot dog vendors shouted: “Get your dachshund sausages while they’re red hot!”. The most likely theory is that the term ‘hot dog’ came from university students who made jokes about the questionable origin of the meat in the sausages.

However, this didn’t put people off hot dogs. A 1930’s joke went, “the hot dog is the noblest kind of dog, for it does not bite the hand that feeds it; it feeds the hand that bites it.” Today, the average American eats about seventy hot dogs per year, and there are endless hot dog varieties all around the planet. A popular kind of dog indeed!