If your plans for this Independence Day involve firing up the barbecue, you’ll probably be cooking two American classics: hot dogs and hamburgers. Come the Fourth of July, families will be grilling up burgers and dogs from sea to shining sea, but it wasn’t always this way. The story of how beef patties and sausages became culinary symbols of our nation will give you plenty of food for thought.
It was German immigrants who brought the “frankfurter” and the “wienerwurst” to American soil in the 1800s. There is much debate over who first decided to place one of these franks in a bun, but by the opening of the 20th century, hot dog stands had popped up all over the Eastern Seaboard. We do know the identity of the man who took the hot dog’s popularity to a national level: Nathan Handwerker. A Jewish immigrant from Poland, Nathan sliced buns for a hot dog stand on Coney Island.
After scraping together enough money, he quit his job and opened a stand of his own, undercutting his former employer’s prices by half. Not only did Nathan’s hot dogs outsell the competition, the Great Depression made them the perfect food for a nation suddenly living on a tight budget. By the 1930s, hot dogs had become so unquestionably American that Franklin Roosevelt famously served them to King George VI during his royal visit in 1939.
Like the hot dog, the exact origin of the beef patty’s eventual “sandwiching” is lost to history. Once again, it was German immigrants who brought their recipes for “Hamburg steak” with them across the Atlantic, but reports vary as to who first sold the meat patty inside a bun.
Multiple diners and fairgrounds across America claim to be the home of the first hamburger. All of these claims date to the turn of the 20th century, a time when our nation was faced with feeding a growing working class quickly and cheaply. By the 1950s, the burger had become a symbol of the American everyman.
Both the hot dog and hamburger embody the history of our nation. Immigrant traditions merged with blue-collar needs to create two uniquely American foods. It’s fitting that we celebrate America’s birthday with the grub that has grown along with it.
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