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Dog Days of Summer: 5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Hot Dogs

In honor of July's status as National Hot Dog Month, and just in time for the Fourth of July, here are a few things you probably didn't know about the sausages—including one association's novel contest approach.

Editor’s note: This story, originally posted in 2013, has been updated.

For a lot of Americans, this week will be full of fireworks, family—and, possibly, a couple of frankfurters.

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) is ready. The association is celebrating its annual Hot Dog Month this July.

There’s a reason it’s at this time of year, and not, say, in November. According to statistics from the association, people eat 7 billion hot dogs in the U.S. between Memorial Day and Labor Day—150 million of those on the Fourth of July alone. If lined up end to end, those 150 million hot dogs would reach the moon and back five times—something the Associations Now staff has obviously verified personally.

Just in time for the Fourth of July, check out these little nuggets to get you in the hot-dog-eating spirit:

1. The Coney Island Shuffle

The history of the hot dog and the history of New York’s Coney Island are intertwined to such a point that the hot dog played a major role in the boardwalk’s growth.

In 1870, stand owner Charles Feltman, finding pies to be too cumbersome to sell at the amusement park, started selling his brand of sausages in rolls—the first time that had ever been done and also the starting point of a budding empire for Feltman.

In 1916, another piece of history was made: Nathan Handwerker, a onetime employee of the Feltman family, decided to strike out on his own with slightly cheaper hot dogs, a move that proved a huge success—the restaurant chain that bears his name is still active today, known especially for its annual hot-dog-eating contest.

That contest’s entrants have their own professional sports league, the International Federation of Competitive Eating, or the more ESPN-friendly Major League Eating.

(Side note: The “Coney dog”, while named for Coney Island, is not from there—that’s a Michigan-based dog variation. However, if you’re on Coney Island and want a hot dog with sauce, there’s an option for that: the Michigan hot dog. Funny how that works.)

The maximalist Chicago-style hot dog, which is often referred to as "dragged through the garden" due to its many toppings. (photo by deciBelle/Flickr)

2. NYC vs. Chicago

When people think of hot dogs, the two types that many people think of right off the bat are New York’s lightly adorned beef dogs, which generally come with mustard and onions; and Chicago’s trimming-heavy dogs, which build upon the mustard and all-beef dogs with dark relish, sport peppers, tomatoes, a pickle spear, and a dash of celery salt.

But not to be outdone, Los Angeles eats more hot dogs than any other city, NHDSC notes. And other locales, such as West Virginia and Seattle, have their own takes on the handheld meal.

A 1950s-era Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. (photo by aldenjewell/Flickr)

3. The Wienermobile’s Roots

When Oscar Mayer’s hot-dog-shaped Wienermobile first took to the roads in 1936, it was a crazy idea brought forth by the nephew of the company’s owners—complete with its own driver, George “Little Oscar” Molchan, who was hired to take the helm of the vehicle because he was only 44 inches tall. Anyone larger than that wouldn’t have been able to fit into the original motorized sausage.

The vehicle, which became a PR boon for the company, has evolved numerous times over the years, and the vehicles are still common around the country—at times showing up in odd situations.

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4. For the Vegetarians

While veggie dogs are increasingly common, especially in baseball parks around the country, the Worthington Foods brand, which later became known for its Morningstar Farms line of frozen foods, first created a vegetarian hot dog in 1949. The product, renamed Veja-Links in 1954, comes in a can and is still sold today under the Loma Linda brand name—though it now has a lot more competition on the shelves.

And if you’re looking to sink your teeth into something tasty but meat-free, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has a list of restaurants nationwide that have turned veggie dogs into an art form.

5. Ambassadors Wanted

Playing into people’s love for hot dogs, NHDSC has launched a contest looking for official hot dog ambassadors. It’s recruting from five different regions around the U.S.: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and West.

“We’re looking for people with a passion for hot dogs and a strong background in preparing, eating, enjoying, debating, and celebrating them as the great all-American food,” the association says.

The selected ambassadors will win a Hot Dog Ambassador business card that can be used for discounts at the association’s partner restaurants, gift cards for hot dogs, a T-shirt, a wrist band, and a partner sticker. (Among the partner restaurants are a who’s-who of famed hot dog joints, including Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, DC; New York City’s Papaya King and Gray’s Papaya; and Chicago’s Superdawg.)

Sound fun? Well, if you’re interested, there’s no time to waste: The deadline to apply is July 11.

How do you dig your hot dogs? Tell us in the comments below.

(iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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