Why Are Hot Dogs Called Hot Dogs?

When you think of classic American fast food, hot dogs undoubtedly come to mind. But have you ever paused to wonder why these popular sausages are called “hot dogs”? The name, at first glance, might seem a bit odd, especially since it has nothing to do with canines.

Let’s delve into the etymology of this term and uncover the story behind it.

The Origins of the Term “Hot Dog”

Early European Influences

The story of the hot dog begins not in America, but in Europe. The hot dog, essentially a cooked sausage, has its roots in German and Austrian cuisine. The term “frankfurter” comes from Frankfurt, Germany, where a similar pork sausage was popular.

Another term, “wiener,” originates from Vienna, Austria, whose German name is “Wien.” These European sausages were the ancestors of the modern American hot dog.

The American Transformation

When German immigrants brought these sausages to America in the 19th century, they underwent a transformation. Street vendors and food carts in cities like New York began selling these sausages in buns, making them easy to eat on the go.

This convenience was crucial in popularizing the dish in the bustling streets of American cities.

The Birth of the Name “Hot Dog”

The term “hot dog” is believed to have been coined in the early 20th century. Two theories are most commonly cited:

  1. A Cartoonist’s Inspiration: The more colorful story involves a cartoonist named Tad Dorgan. Around 1901, at a baseball game in New York, Dorgan reportedly observed vendors selling “hot dachshund sausages” in buns. Inspired by the scene, he sketched a cartoon of barking dachshund sausages nestled in rolls. Not sure how to spell “dachshund,” he simply captioned it “hot dog!” However, no conclusive evidence of this cartoon’s existence has been found.
  2. College Slang: Another theory suggests that “hot dog” was college slang. At places like Yale University, students would refer to the wagons selling hot sausages in buns as “dog wagons,” insinuating a questionable meat origin. The term “hot dog” would have naturally evolved from this.

The Name Sticks

Regardless of its true origin, the name “hot dog” stuck and became synonymous with these sausages in buns. It captured the essence of the product—a hot, easy-to-eat meal—and had a catchy, memorable ring to it.


The name “hot dog” is a quirky and interesting part of American culinary history. Reflecting a blend of European heritage and American innovation, it’s a testament to the melting pot that is American culture.

Whether inspired by a cartoonist’s quick wit or the slang of college students, the term has become an enduring part of the American lexicon, describing one of the most iconic and beloved fast foods.