How hot dogs came to America

By Briana Vannozzi

Can you think of a more beloved American food on a sunny summer day? They’re hot, they’re tasty and they make for that oh so perfect bite. It turns out the origins of the hot dog are woven into the fabric of American immigration history. Pretty profound for the snack that goes best with picnics and cold beer.

“We’ve made the story of the hot dog, which everybody takes for granted, but it’s so much fun. We’ve made it into an immigration story because that’s really what it is,” said Evelyn Hill Inc. General Manager Bob Uffer.

The stories of five iconic hot dog purveyors are on display at the Ellis Island Museum, just in time for national hot dog month. Each tied by a common thread, the founders immigrated through Ellis Island. On this opening day, hundreds of free samples are being cooked up for visitors to celebrate.

“We have five different companies. We have Sabrett, we have Hebrew National, we have Nathan’s, we have Vienna Beef,” Uffer said.

Vienna Beef, one of the oldest brands, started in 1893.

“The gentleman wound up in Chicago selling hot dogs, or whatever they were called then, at the World’s Fair. He saved enough money to buy a storefront and Vienna Beef was born,” said Uffer.

Then of course there’s Walter’s. The recipe for these dogs came from Italian immigrants.

“Walter’s is from Mamaroneck, NY. Fourth generation family business and great hot dogs,” said Offer.

It turns out the all-American hot dog is anything but. Nathan’s has been around for over 100 years with Polish roots, and I have to tell you, it makes for a pretty good breakfast.

“I like that when you go around they have the different flags from the different countries, so it’s really interesting to see,” said Chicago resident Anders Stadler.

And getting a taste of the cultural influence makes for a better history lesson. At Sabrett you can find the name of one of the original owners, Christopher Papalexis from Greece, in the Ellis Island passenger log.

“The spice is still the same as it was from 90 years ago, just a little alteration. There’s a lot of European influence,” said Mark Rosen, Marathon Enterprises vice president.

Anything that you can relate back to the immigration experience is exactly what young people and old people and middle-aged people need to know today.” said California resident Dana Guns.

And here’s a shocker, get ready for it because I didn’t see it coming. It turns out that mustard is the sole and original condiment meant for the hot dog.

“There’s a book called “Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog”, and I thought that was interesting because I always thought it was just my husband telling me never to put ketchup on a hot dog. And I’m from Iowa so we put ketchup on hotdogs,” said Kris Stadler.

The free franks are for opening day only, but the exhibit stays up through July. I can’t file this report without using at least one corny food pun, so after learning the roots of this oft-underplayed food, it’s good to see every dog does have its day.