Laura Mayer is an Associate Producer at WNYC.
With the baseball season upon us, it's hard not to think of the delicious concession that's become synonymous with America's favorite past time: The hot dog. We dug into the WNYC Archives to find out why and how the baloney on a roll became king of the ball field.
According to a 1948 radio drama, Harry Stevens was a down-on-his-luck iron peddler in Ohio who had an idea to make some money for his family by selling sausages at baseball games. But he hit a snag...
No use cooking any more frankfurters, Mr. Stevens. They won't buy 'em. The dames complain they get mustard all over their hands!
Stevens couldn't afford plates. He had another solution.
Look Tommy, this piece of bread makes a good plate for the frankfurter. Now, you wrap it around this. Then the mustard and the frankfurter are inside.
As the story goes, the sausages sold like hot...cakes. Stevens took his concessions to the big leagues and began selling them at ball games in New York. There, sports journalist Tad Dorgan wrote a cartoon calling the sausages "Dachshund Sandwiches," after the little dogs the sausages resemble.
Get your red hot dachshunds on a roll. Red hot dogs! Get your red hot dogs right here! Hey buddy two over here with mustard. Hey buddy, there's that guy with that what-do-you-call-it, the hot dogs. Like in the paper. Hey, two over here, bud!
And thus the radio drama ends happily, with Stevens digging his way out of debt, and the American public savoring a new snack.
But hot dogs weren't always held in such high esteem. Dig into the New York Tribune's archives and you'll find a story from April 13, 1916, titled "NO MORE LOW TITLES, MARK THAT WELL: Mr. Winch, Press Representative, Raising Tone of Resort, from Griddle to Clowns." Frank Winch, a press agent for Coney Island, felt that the term "hot dog" was too low-brow for the "summer resort."
He said, at a press conference.
"I want this understood. I am raising the tone of this summer resort, and I do not with that the writers for the newspaper employ hereafter the detestable term 'hot dog' in future descriptions of Coney Island. It is low and vulgar, and connotes a doubtful origin for what are really hygienically-made frankfurters. There are no hot dogs on Coney from now on. They are frankfurters. Remember that. You may call them roast sausages, if you will but hot dogs - never!"
Mr. Winch may have detested the term "hot dog," but America seems to be sticking with it.
Special thanks to the WNYC Archives for providing the audio in this article.