An American Tradition Like No Other.
By Daniel Murray
|One of America’s longest standing traditions is built on a lie. |
No, I’m not talking about Halloween or the 4th of July.
I’m talking about the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating contest on the 4th of July.
It is, and always has been, wait for it… a Marketing stunt. *Gasps*
|Legend has it that on the 4th of July in 1916, on Coney Island, four Polish immigrants decided to settle a heated debate of who was the most American. |
How did they settle the debate? A hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s Famous Coney Island hot dog stand, of course.
What ensued was an annual hot dog eating contest at that very Coney Island stand.
|The contest continued to transcend “just eating hot dogs”. It was a cultural event, people from all over the US would come to see contestants eat more hot dogs in one sitting than I have in my entire life. |
As a protest to the war in Europe in 1941 and in 1971 because of civil unrest, the annual contest was protested.
The hot dog contest became a symbol, and Nathan’s was using it to promote change.
|Well, none of that actually happened. There is ZERO evidence of a Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest before 1972. *Gasps again* |
In fact some of the first ever hot dog contests weren’t even held on the 4th of July.
Yeah I know, a pretty elaborate lie. Or is it a GENIUS Marketing stunt?
|Up until the 1970s, the hot hog was a rather foreign food to Americans. |
Loved by German and Polish immigrants, Nathan Handwerker set out to change that narrative in American’s eyes.
And what better way to do that than associate his brand with the most American holiday ever, the 4th of July.
And that’s REALLY when the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest was born.
|So why the fake story? Tradition. The 4th of July is all about tradition. |
Nathan’s read the room and realized they couldn’t just run on into the party as the new kid on the block.
They had to show that they too had a rich history, that there was something deeper there than just hot dogs, there was something American.
And they did just that. Even Uncle Sam gets a feature on their t-shirts (see below), nothing more American than that.
|Every 4th of July, Nathan’s hosts the contest in front of the infamous Nathan’s Famous original restaurant. Some 40,000 fans gather each year to watch the spectacle in person, and another 1M+ sit around their TVs to watch the contestants inhale hot dogs like their lives depended on it. |
Nathan’s has built a tradition that doubles as hundreds of millions in PR value. (ESPN’s ratings for the hot dog eating contest beat that of the MLB games played the same day.)
|The impact Nathan’s has had is so profound that if you ask anyone to name an extremely American food, most times they’ll tell you a hot dog. |
A complete 180 from 50 years ago.
The official hot dog of the MLB and New York Yankees are wonderful accolades, but Nathan’s will always be the official hot dog of the United States.