How The Hot Dog Found Its Bun

Accidental Discoveries And Unexpected Inspirations That Shape What We Eat And Drink

by Josh Chetwynd

How the Hot Dog Found Its Bun

Hardcover, 160 pages, Globe Pequot Pr, List Price: $14.95 | purchase

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Book Summary

Explores the origins of various kitchen inventions, products and foodstuff in short vignettes that dispel popular myths and draw lines between food facts and food fiction, showing how some of our greatest culinary achievements were simply by-products of "damned good luck." Illustrated by David Cole Wheeler.

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Excerpt: How The Hot Dog Found Its Bun

Hot Dog Bun: Small Carts and Glove Thieves

The hot dog is without a doubt the greatest contribution German immigrants have ever made to the American food scene. (Sorry, boosters of stollen or fans of German red cabbage; it's true.) As one would expect, the frankfurter, a slender smoked cousin of the bratwurst, originated in the German town of Frankfurt centuries before German-Americans began selling them in the United States in the 1800s.

While those sausages were very popular on their own, what turned them into American icons — think baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet — was the bun, which made the meal an on-the-go favorite from ballparks to boardwalks. (Fun fact: Yale students were among the first to use the term "hot dog" in 1895. Presumably it was because the tube meat reminded them of another German import — the dachshund.)

So where did the hot dog bun come from? Many give that honor to a Coney Island man named Charles Feltman in 1871. According to writer Jeffrey Stanton, Feltman's customers wanted hot sandwiches, but the New York butcher's pie cart was too small to pack a variety of options on his rounds. In need of a simple alternative he came up with the idea of turning his slim sausages into sandwiches by using an elongated roll. New York was a hub for hot dogs and along with Feltman, a baker by the name of Ignatz Frischmann, who was a Feltman contemporary, has also been floated as the bun inventor by at least one scholar.

That said, the New Yorkers aren't the only people to stake a claim to the indispensible bun's marriage to the hot dog. The other main contender provides a far more colorful explanation for the bready addition.

Anton Ludwig Feuchtwanger was a German-American vendor in St. Louis, who sold sausages in the days before the hot dog moniker. He called them "red hots," and in 1883 he recognized the difficulty of eating the tube meat by hand. His solution: providing his customers with white gloves to wear while enjoying his goods. The gloves would keep patrons' hands clean, help avoid scalding from the sizzling sausage, and add a little class to the affair. Solving one problem led to another: a frustrated Feuchtwanger discovered some less scrupulous buyers were walking off with the gloves. He grew weary of the cost of replacing them. So the vendor went to a local baker (some say it was his brother-in-law) and the result was an inexpensive soft bun.

No doubt, Feuchtwanger's story feels a bit too flavorful. After all, reusing gloves doesn't sound too hygienic. If he was doing good business, his laundry bills must have been crushing. Nevertheless, many publications have given Feuchtwanger recognition for the invention. The Oxford Companion to Food lists both Feuchtwanger and Feltman as inventors and doesn't pass judgment on which vendor deserves acclaim. (The book, unlike most who discuss Feuchtwanger, avoids the glove tale.)

Even if he wasn't the first and his glove story was more marketing myth than reality, Feuchtwanger positively played a role in making the bun a staple in the Midwest. At the 1904 World's Fair in his hometown of St. Louis, Feuchtwanger was a popular concessionaire who did really well with his hot dog-plus-bun combination. Feuchtwanger's stand was so popular that years later many erroneously attribute his glove story to that event. Thus, even if Feltman came first, Feuchtwanger and his efforts definitely helped expand the love for sausage on a bun.

From How the Hot Dog Found Its Bun: Accidental Discoveries and Unexpected Inspirations That Shape What We Eat and Drink by Josh Chetwynd. Copyright 2012 by Josh Chetwynd. Excerpted by permission of Lyons Press.

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