The origin of the hot dog has long been contested and has even been a source of tension in American history. In 1913, for example, Mayor Reginald S. Bennett called an emergency meeting of his cabinet when he learned two men were selling hot dogs in New Jersey.
That day, the council banned the sale of Frankfurters on Sundays, citing that such commerce “would not add to the dignity of the beach.”
Hot dogs drew even further scrutiny in 1922 when detectives arrested two men in Atlantic City for secretly peddling drugs by inserting small packages of narcotics inside the slit of hot dog buns. Indeed, despite hot dogs’ popularity, newspaper articles of the early 1900s cast a negative image of the classic American finger food.
In 1871, Charles Feltman purportedly opened the first Coney Island hot dog stand and sold over 3,000 dachshund sausages in a milk roll during his first year in operation. He was quickly overtaken, however, by his former employee, Nathan Handwerker, a polish immigrant who arrived in New York City in 1912. Nathan’s Famous quickly became a popular eatery in Coney Island, especially once the subway extended to that neighborhood. In fact, it is estimated that visitors bought 75,000 Nathan’s hot dogs each weekend during the summer of 1920.
Years earlier, Nathan’s Famous also started a tradition that continues today: the annual Fourth of July hot dog eating contest. As the story goes, four immigrants competed against each other to scarf down the most franks in an attempt to showcase their patriotism. Today, tens of thousands of sausage lovers gather to watch competitors eat as many hot dogs as they can in ten minutes. Almost 2 million people watched ESPN’s live broadcast of the event. July Fourth 2015, Matt Stonie won the men’s contest by eating 62 dogs.