Hot Dogs image

Hot Dogs

Innovation is at the Heart of the Midlands, including the invention of the Hot Dog!

Hot Dogs and Derby-born Harry M. Stevens

Nothing typifies the USA more than a hot dog stand at a baseball game, but the hot dog was not an American idea. Derby-born Harry M. Stevens  turned a hot sausage into a million-dollar fortune and gave the world the hot dog. Harry is also accredited 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.


“They’re red hot! Get your dachshund sausages while they’re red hot.”

On a chilly April day 1901 during a Yankees-Giants baseball game, concessionaire Harry Stevens was losing money trying to sell ice cream and cold soda. Ever the entrepreneur, he sent his salesmen out to buy up all the “dachshund” sausages they could find, along with rolls to put them in.

In less than an hour, his vendors were hawking hot dogs from portable hot water tanks while yelling, "They're red hot! Get your dachshund sausages while they're red hot!" In the press box, sports cartoonist, T.A. (Tad) Dorgan, Looking for something quirky to illustrate a day at the ballpark, the New York Sun cartoonist, was inspired to draw a cartoon of a dachshund dog smeared in mustard and wrapped in a bun. Whether he was simply unable to spell “dachshund” or judged it too long a word, Dorgan’s caption read simply: “Get your hot dogs here!” Thus an American icon was named.



The hot dog is probably the world’s first real fast food

It's certainly one of the longest lasting and most popular, boasting historical links to Presidents, the British Royal Family, Hollywood stars and most of all, the sport of baseball. It is said Babe Ruth once downed 24 of them between back-to-back games, the movie actress Marlene Dietrich described hot dogs and champagne as her favorite meal, and that Franklin D Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor thought long and hard before deciding to include hot dogs on the menu when King George VI visited New York in June 1939.


Inventor of the hot dog Harry M. Stevens was born in Derby in 1856

Eldest son of James Stevens, a blue-collar worker with the Midland Railway Locomotive in Derby, Harry M. Stevens lived in Malcolm Street. In 1871, aged 14, he was working as a puddler, an arduous and often dangerous occupation converting molten pig iron into wrought iron. Five years later he married Mary Wragg and in 1881 the couple were living at 21, Russell Street. Harry was now working as a potato vendor and his catering expansion had expanded to supplying Normanton Barracks with milk before emigrating with his family in around 1882 to the USA. 



Emigrating with his family in around 1882 to the USA

Settling in Niles, Ohio, Harry found work as a smelter in a local steelworks. But when a strike closed the works, he was forced to find alternative employment. Among the many jobs he undertook to make ends meet was the one that would take him all over the north-eastern United States and would eventually lead him to New York. It was here, Harry fell in love with baseball, but the complex scorecards sold to spectators frustrated him. He decided he could do better and created a simple-to-follow version that made it easy for spectators to identify each player. It proved so popular that it became the model for the scorecards to this day and are sold in ballparks right across the USA. Harry began to sell his idea to more and more ballparks, eventually acquiring the rights for scorecard and refreshment concessions at several Major League ballparks, including the famous Polo Grounds, variously home to the New York Yankees, Mets, and the NFL’s Giants.


It was here that Harry happened upon his second great idea 

Selling his bottles of soda with drinking straws to save his customers the frustration of missing an important play while taking a swig from the bottle.


But it was his third invention that really cemented Harry’s name in baseball history

Although his usual fare of hard-boiled eggs and ice creams were popular during the warmer months, Harry realised that what was really needed on those colder days at the start and end of the season was a hot snack.


Sausage had been sold in rolls before the Hot Dog

But it was putting them in a hot roll with mustard and pickle which made it Stevens’ own idea. The delicacy was immediately popular because it was tasty, warming and convenient, thanks to Harry’s unique selling point. They were a rip-roaring success, so much so that before long Harry’s carts were set up on street corners across New York. Others sought to copy him and soon local versions of the snack where being sold right across the nation. All manner of local names were given to them from “frankfurters” to “red hots”, “wieners” to “wurst”, but for the origin of the “hot dog” we have to go back to Harry Stevens and his “dachshunds”.

Following Harry’s death in May 1934, subsequent generations of the Stevens family have maintained his traditions and developed the Harry M Stevens business into a catering giant.

In 1996, Harry’s name was once again back in the headlines, when 166 items of his baseball memorabilia were auctioned off for $385,000 in New York City. 

Among the items was a photograph of the greatest baseball player of all time, Babe Ruth, hitting his 60th home run. Written in the Babe’s own hand was a simple, heartfelt, message: “To my second dad, Harry M. Stevens. From Babe Ruth. December 25 1927.”

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