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Why Hot Dogs? Plus Independence Day by the Numbers


Hot dogs are originally a German food, so why do we relish them so on this most American of American holidays?

First, some hot dog history
A pre-cursor to the modern day hot dog seems to date as far back as the 9th century BCE, with mention in Homer’s Odyssey. Then in the 1600s, the German “Dachshund Sausage” (not actual dog!) was invented and eventually took on the name “Frankfurter” when its inventing butcher travelled to Frankfurt to market his new product.  The term “hot dog” itself, is American, dating anywhere from 1890 to 1901, depending on the story you believe.[1]

While it’s unclear why we started to eat hot dogs with buns, there are reports of German immigrants selling Frankfurters with milk rolls and sauerkraut from carts in NYC in the 1860s.[2]

In 1871, the first Coney Island hot dog stand was opened by a German baker who sold 3,684 hot dogs in buns in his first year of business. Then, in 1893, hot dogs became a standard at baseball parks, following the lead of the German-born restaurant owner and baseball team owner Chris Von de Ahe.[3]

Coney Island is where it all comes back to for our purposes, though. More specifically, the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. The contest debuted in 1972 and throughout the 1970s, it bounced between Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and Labor Day. Then in the 1980s, Nathan’s firmly affixed the annual contest to the 4th of July. And that, plus the power of marketing, is where the beautiful and inextricable relationship between hot dogs and the 4th of July was born.[4] Today, more than 40,000 people come out every year to watch the annual hot dog eating contest on Independence Day.[5]

That brings us to…

The Economics of Hot Dogs
For the 62% of Americans who plan to celebrate with a cookout of their own this 4th of July,[6] hot dogs will cost them a bit more than last year. In May 2017, a pound of hot dogs (about a standard pack) cost $2.65; this year, that’s up to $2.75, an increase of 3.6%.[7] But(!) a decrease in the price of ice cream (which, let’s admit it, we’re all eating on the 4th) will help offset the higher hot dog prices: a half gallon of ice cream is 0.9% less expensive than a year ago, at $4.59 in May 2018, down from $4.63 in May 2017.[8]


Happy 4th, everyone! Enjoy those hot dogs, and here’s more on the numbers behind Independence Day.


[1] National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (

[2] Ibid.     

[3] Ibid.

[4] Insider, “The real reason we all eat hot dogs on the Fourth of July” (

[5] Nathan’s Famous, “The Hot Dog Eating Contest:  A Tale as Tall as 73 Hot Dogs” (

[6] National Retail Federation, Independence Day Survey (

[7] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, average price data for frankfurters, U.S. city average, not seasonally adjusted

[8] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, average price data for ice cream, U.S. city average, not seasonally adjusted

Economic Data



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