By David G. Firestone
The tradition of hot dogs at sporting events is a long standing one in the United States. Spending a summer’s day at the ball park or race track, having a beer and a hot dog is real piece of Americana. The tradition is so ingrained in our culture that even high school sports, and even Little League will sell hot dogs at their events.
The hot dog itself really is perfect for the role as iconic stadium food. We all know about it. Each city adds their own signature style to it, they are easy to prepare, and easy to enjoy. Having grown up in Chicago, I am partial to Chicago-style hot dogs, though a New York style is really good too. For many, the classic mustard and relish combination is a tasty treat while sitting in the stands.
Why am I discussing this? Because I was talking with some friends this last week, and we were discussing the various food items for sale at baseball parks. As the conversation progressed, I began to wonder where this tradition began. Feeding people at sporting events dates back to the Roman empire, but how and why did the hot dog become the go-to stadium food? I did a little sleuthing, and here is what I found out.
In true classic form, there are two people credited with introducing the hot dog at sporting events, Harry M. Stevens, and Chris von der Ahe. Chris von der Ahe was the founder of the St. Louis Cardinals. He made the team into a popular attraction in St. Louis. He priced his tickets low so fans would spend money on beer. Supposedly, he introduced the hot dog to baseball in 1893. Harry M. Stevens was a British concessionaire who is supposedly the man who invented the hot dog. This claim states that at a New York Giants game in 1901, the weather was cold, and he couldn’t sell ice cream, so he ordered his staff to gather “dachshund sausages” stuffed them into rolls, and started shouting “Get your red hots!” A cartoonist present at the game was said to have written “hot dogs” because he couldn’t spell dachshund. However, since the term “hot dog” dates to at least 1892, no copy of the cartoon could ever be found, and the fact that Chris von der Ahe sold hot dogs at baseball games since 1893 debunks that story
Stevens might not have started the tradition of selling hot dogs at baseball games, but he perfected it. Stevens signed the first deal to become a Major League Baseball concessionaire, a role which he perfected. Stevens is also credited with inventing the scorecard, the template he designed is still in use today. Using these two tools, Stevens became the foremost concessionaire in the United States, and it’s easy to see why.
Two men over the course of a few years took the hot dog from street vendor fare to an iconic part of sports history in the United States. Their names aren’t known to many of the fans who consume the hot dogs they helped make iconic, which is sad. But to Harry M. Stevens and Chris von der Ahe, America thanks you!