Nathan’s hot dogs were so cheap that people didn’t trust the quality.
Nathan Handwerker charged 5 cents for hot dogs until 1944.
He raised the price to 7 cents, after losing money on each and every sale.
Cheap meat came with questions.
“Hot” was code for dodgy, and, as Barry Popnik writes, the phrase probably originated a kind of joke.
Take, for instance, this popular 1860 song:
Oh! Where, oh! Where ish mine little dog gone?
Oh! where, oh! Where can he be?
His ear’s cut short, and his tail cut long:
Oh! Where, oh! where ish he?
Tra, la la….
Und sausage is goot: Baloney, of course,
Oh! where, oh! where can he be?
Dey makes ‘em mit dog, und dey makes ‘em mit horse:
I guess dey makes ‘em mit he.
To improve business, Nathan offered a free meal to actors (or possibly local doctors) – as long as they would keep their lab coats on.
The Times reported:
“So Mr. Handwerker hired white-jacketed young men to stand in front of his stand munching hot dogs. This brought in the ‘class’ visitors. They had decided that Nathan’s franks ‘must really be good because all the doctors are eating them.’”
The stunt with the “doctored” hot dogs apparently worked.
You can read about it in books like Selling: Powerful New Strategies for Sales Success.
Happy Hotdog Day!
Sources: Smithsonian, NY Times