Hot dog history 101: Why we eat them at baseball games

Standing in the excruciatingly slow concession line last week at the Blue Jays game, I let my mind wander. Who invented the hot dog? Why do we eat hot dogs at baseball games?

In honour (and hopes) of the Jays moving forward in the playoffs and Torontonians getting to eat many more ballpark beauties, I delved into a surprisingly complex history of the hot dog and how it became to be the most popular baseball snack.

More than 25 million hot dogs are devoured every  year in ballparks across North America — that’s a freaking lot of wieners — and there seems to be two preeminent origin stories surrounding the marriage of hot dogs and baseball.

The first, unsurprisingly, has German provenance. Chris Von de Ahe was a German immigrant, a grocer-turned-entrepreneur, who owned the stadium where St.Louis’ baseball team, the Brown Stockings, played (now the St. Louis Cardinals). He is said to be the first to sell dachshund sausages in his ballpark in 1893, and also the first to charge a lower price for tickets so people would spend more money on beer (smart, smart man). Sausages were easy to sell because they were easy to eat in the stands, case closed.

While Von de Ahe’s origin story seems to be muddled with his entrepreneurial (and to be honest, rather egotistical) spirit, it’s not totally verifiable. However, if you Google Harry M. Stevens, “the inventor of the hot dog” will come up more than once.

Stevens, a British-born Ohioan is said to be the first to sell sausage-in-a-bun at a New York Giants game in 1901, calling them dachshund dogs, after he was unable to sell ice cream on a cold day in April. When the cartoonist covering the event couldn’t spell dachshund, the street food’s colloquial name was born as he captioned his cartoon “hot dog,” after hearing vendors shout “They’re red hot! Get your dachshund sausages while they’re red hot!”

All because someone couldn’t spell, hot dog!

If you are really a footlong fan, check out the list of best ball park hot dogs on, and if you’re really a nerd you can check out an extended history of the hot dog on — yes that’s a real website and there are people who do their Ph Ds in this kind of thing.


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