Wednesday Wag: Do hot dogs get their name from actual dogs?


For dog superfans like us, the internet is the gift that keeps on giving. This week we were inspired by a summer food staple, hot dogs, and wanted to dig deeper (get it?) into its historic ties to puppers.

There are very few things that I can’t somehow relate to dogs. Cheetahs? Apparently nervous animals who need comfort dogs to calm them down. Baseball? A game that has gone too long without featuring dogs that deliver water to umps. Full House? A vehicle for Comet’s acting.

So, when Joey Chestnut scarfed his way to Coney Island hot dog eating victory yesterday by taking down an impressive (and disgusting) 72 dogs, I got to thinking. Where did the name “hot dog” come from? Were there any actual dogs involved in that etymology?

I was delighted when my web search sent me directly to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. (Obscure, specific national councils are one of my favorite societal quirks.) Sure enough, the council lived up to its name and broke down a history of America’s favorite encased meat and its name.

Sausage dates back as far as the 9th Century B.C. It even got a shout-out in The Odyssey. But hot dogs, as we know them, probably came to North America from a few different places in Europe near the end of the 1800s.

Frankfurters and dachshund sausage

Cities like Frankfurt and Vienna (Vienna or “Wien,” as in “wiener”) claim they were the ones behind what became the hot dog. Here in the states, a few different German immigrants are said to have operated the first hot dog carts. At the 1893 Colombian Exposition in Chicago, the portable sausages were a big hit.

Hot dog historians (yep, that’s a real thing) clash on exactly where the name came from. One legend has it that a vendor at a 1901 New York polo match was yelling out “get your dachshund sausages while they’re red hot!” A  New York Journal cartoonist thought it was a funny image, and drew a cartoon of barking dachshund sausages in buns. Mysteriously, no one’s ever found the cartoon.

Others think the term comes from college campuses like Yale where hot dog carts were so called as a kind of sarcastic comment on the meat’s origin. And here’s where the real dog connection turns up: Germans had brought both sausage and long, skinny dachshund dogs to the states. Long, skinny dogs? Long, skinny sausages? Makes sense.

Wiener dogs

So dachshunds (the rightful winner in the unspoken cuteness battle between short-legged dogs despite the internet’s corgi obsession) were likely responsible for the hot dog getting its name. And it seems to go both ways since a lot of people know dachshunds only as wiener dogs. The historic connection still shows up in pop culture. There’s the Heinz ketchup commercial that showed a pack of wiener dogs dressed in hot dog costumes running to their ketchup and mustard families.

In Germany, they still play up their role in the creation of hot dogs at celebrations like Oktoberfest. Festivities have been known to kick off with a “running of the wiener dogs.”

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No matter its exact origins, the hot dog, like the animal that shares its name, is now a pillar of American tradition. It’s just not nearly as cute.

We’ll be celebrating our love of all things dogs every Wednesday in the Wednesday Wag.