NYPL Exhibitions

Hot Dogs

Hot dogs were so named in the late 19th century, when a popular term of approval (“hot”) was paired with a joking reference to the meat scraps that thrifty butchers tucked into sausage casings. In fact, before the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906, hot dogs were the sort of food that mothers warned their children never to eat. But New Yorkers bought them anyway, from vendors at parks, on boardwalks, and on the street. Nathan’s Famous, opened by Nathan Handwerker in 1915, made hot dogs synonymous with Coney Island. 

The next landmark moment for New York hot dogs came in the 1930s, when Sabrett, a hot-dog manufacturer, began distributing its brand-name umbrellas to pushcarts selling hot dogs on the street. In 1939 Gus Poulos, the owner of Papaya King, introduced the hot dog to the papaya drink—an unexpected pairing that has since become a classic of sidewalk cuisine.