How Derby Invented the Hot Dog!

Frankfurter stand, Detroit Hot dog - credit: Williems Photography

Harry's Game - How Derby invented the Hot Dog!

Which Englishman has made the greatest impact on the United States of America?

Let’s hear it for Harry M. Stevens, eldest son of James Stevens, a foreman of Midland Railway Locomotive in Derby!

Born in 1856, Harry’s influence on popular American culture is immense – having invented the hot dog - the world’s most popular fast food boasting historical links to Presidents, the British Royal Family, Hollywood stars and most of all, the sport of baseball. 

Credited, also, with designing the baseball scorecard still used to this day, and with pioneering the drinking of soda through a straw, Harry’s major claim to fame is nevertheless the way in which his name is now synonymous with the hot dog.

Born in Derby, Harry became a caterer in his home-town before emigrating with his family to Ohio in the 1880s.  The entrepreneurial flair, which he put to such great effect later in life, led him to believe that he could make money from catering at large sporting events in the United States. 

His early visits to baseball grounds, however, ended in personal frustration at being unable to identify visiting players, or to keep up with the action.  As a result, he devised a scorecard which could be used by the fans, and he also left space on them for advertisements.  An instant success, Stevens’ scorecards have altered little to this day. 

But the most popular story concerning Harry Stevens relates to a chilly April day at New York City’s Polo Ground, in 1901.  By now, Stevens had the catering concession for major league baseball games, but was losing money trying to sell ice cream and cold soda.  He sent out his salesmen to buy up all of the ‘dachshund’ sausages they could find, along with rolls to put them in, and encouraged his vendors to go round the ground shouting “They’re red hot.  Get your dachshund sausages here”. 

The story continues that newspaper cartoonist Tad Dorgan, short on ideas and working to a tight deadline, drew inspiration from what he saw and drew a barking dachshund sausage nestling in a roll.  Not sure how to spell “dachshund”, he scrawled the words “hot dog” on his cartoon instead. 

The drawing became famous.  So did the hot dog’s connection with baseball.  And another American icon was born. 

So whatever became of that humble snack? 

Millions, if not billions, later, the hot dog is still going strong, and is forever linked to both the sport of baseball and American popular culture as a whole.

The noblest of all dogs is the Hot Dog - It feeds the hand that bites it!

Don't want to miss a thing?

Subscribe to our newsletter