I have a love-hate relationship with hot dogs. When I get the urge for one, nothing else will do. But just one hot dog is more like a snack than a real meal, and two of them is one too many.

Besides, I still recall the occasion of my pal Scott’s ninth birthday party, at which I managed to consume not one, not two, but six wieners, cooked by me on a knife-sharpened stick over a backyard campfire. They were great until that last bite, upon which I erupted. It was at least 10 years before I came face-to-face with a hot dog again.

Hot dogs, wieners, weenies, frankfurters, wienerwurst, franks, tube steaks, dachshund sandwiches, red hots or whatever you call them have been around for hundreds of years. They originated in Europe, with the cities of Frankfurt, Germany, and Vienna, Austria, both claiming to be the birthplace of the sausage.

Immigrants brought the beloved wurst (German for sausage) to the New World, but it was at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904 that the hot dog in a bun came into its own, many historians say. A Bavarian vendor served his sizzling hot wieners to customers with a pair of gloves to hold them, so they wouldn’t burn their fingers.

Folks kept walking off with them, and he found himself losing more money on gloves than he made on dogs. His wife suggested he serve the sausages on bread, so he asked his brother-in-law, a baker, for help. Soon, rolls long enough to hold a sausage came out of the oven, and the hot dog was born.

Another debatable story involves how the hot dog got its name. It was a blustery April day at the Polo Grounds in New York in the early 1900s, and vendor Harry Stevens was having a hard time selling ice cream and cold drinks. He switched over to wieners, steaming from his portable hot-water tank, calling out to customers “Red hot, get your dachshund sandwiches while they’re red hot.”

T.A. Dorgan, cartoonist for The New York Journal, heard his spiel and drew a dachshund in a bun, complete with a head, four legs and a tail, Not sure how to spell “dachshund,” he labeled his depiction simply “hot dog.”

You’ve heard, no doubt, of Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island, New York. It all began when Nathan Herdwerker, who worked for Charles Feltman as a bun slicer, decided to open a competing hot-dog stand. He ate free dogs and slept on the kitchen floor for a year, saving enough of his $11 a week pay to open his own place.

Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante, both musicians and comedians of the day, helped him to start, and he hired a pretty red-haired girl, Clara Bowtinelli, to help out. She was “discovered” and became the famous “It” girl of movie fame, Clara Bow.

He sold his dogs for a nickel, half of what Feltman charged, and has held the contest every year since 1916.

It was a banner day for wieners back in 1939 at Hyde Park, New York. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, held a picnic for royal visitors, King George VI of England and his wife, Elizabeth. Hot dogs were served; the king had seconds.

I’ve sampled many fine hot dogs in my day, once I got over the fateful birthday party. My granny made a yummy barbecued hot-dog main dish. My childhood home was a block away from The Green Door, so I had my share of Kearney Koontz’s famous hot dogs all-the-way.

Robbins School featured weenies and sauerkraut at least once a week. When we weren’t eating chowder and clam cakes in Rhode Island, we were often eating New York System hot dogs (chili, onions, mustard and celery salt). A to-die-for Kretschmar with onions, mustard and relish at a Red Sox-Blue Jays game in Toronto, a Surfer Dog with mustard, cheese and bacon at the Trolly Stop at Wrightsville Beach and blackened back yard dog at my son’s house are stand-outs in my wiener memories.

After all, what’s good enough for the King and Queen of England is good enough for me.
Page H. Onorato is a retired teacher and a correspondent for The Lexington (N.C.) Dispatch.