The First Hot Dog Eating Contest
Earlier this month, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut took the title of hot dog eating champ for the 10th time at the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, New York City. Ingesting a record 72 hot dogs, Chestnut has won all but one of the last 11 hot dog eating bouts. But how did massive hot dog consumption become an annual event?
Early twentieth-century legend has it that four immigrants in New York City were arguing over who was the most patriotic one of the bunch. They decided to resolve the argument by challenging each other to a hot dog eating contest. Supposedly, the contest took place on July 4, 1916 at Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand on Coney Island, although there is no actual proof of the event. According to the legend, the winner of the first hot-dog-eating who-is-more-patriotic contest was supposedly a man by the name of Jim Mullen.
Personally, I think it more likely that Nathan’s founder, Nathan Handwerker (a Polish immigrant himself), paid the four men to put on this display as a publicity stunt. After all, hot dogs began as imported sausage that another immigrant, Charles Feltman, started serving on bread rolls, thereby ‘inventing’ the hot dog. Feltman’s version was called the Coney Island Red Hot. Handwerker was a former employee of Feltman’s, working as a roll slicer. He quit that job in order to open his own hot dog stand. Nathan’s had some very famous customers in the early days. You could have run into the likes of Al Capone, Jimmy Durante or Cary Grant eating their favorite hot dogs there.
Whether this truly happened or not, hot dog eating contests have been held at the original Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues every year since 1916 with the exception of 1941 and 1971. Having a hot dog eating contest on America’s Independence Day on Coney Island has become a longstanding tradition as well as a unique and popular sporting event.
We love hot dogs here at Retro Planet and although we’ve never had a hot dog eating contest, we do celebrate National Hot Dog Day on the third Wednesday in July each year. You can see our blog about it here: National Hot Dog Day. This blog features many of the popular hot dog signs we carry at Retro Planet. If you’re looking for a great retro themed hot dog sign, you can see our selection here: Hot Dog Signs.