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Hot Dog History: The Weiner Winner

It has become the Fourth of July tradition in America.

No, not the fireworks. No, not the parties and picnics. And no, not the alcohol imbibing.

This tradition occurs in Coney Island but captivates the world.

A Polish immigrant named Nathan Handwerker started a single hot-dog stand in Coney Island in 1926 with a $300 loan and has turned it into a multi-million-dollar enterprise – which includes restaurants, an hot-dog product line found in virtually every supermarket in the country.

And it has also sponsored the great American tradition known as the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.

The contest to prove gastrointestinal greatness dates back to the 1970s and has been an annual staple held in front of the original Nathan’s hot dog stand in Coney Island, New York. Contestants have 10 minutes to eat as many of Nathan’s Famous dogs as they can – yes, including the buns.  The contest was essentially for men, though some women participated at times until there was a separate women’s division established in 2011.

Contestants compete for the coveted Mustard Belt, given to the contest champion and it makes him and the world’s greatest eaters. This contest has spurned a pro-eating circuit, where some people take part in a various eating contest for prize money and sponsorships.

The most recent contest was held this past July 4th, and Joey Chestnut broke his own world record by eating 74 hot dogs in 10 minutes to capture his 11th Mustard Belt in the last 12 years.  Prior to Chestnut’s dominance, the world’s greatest eater was a Japanese native who went by the name of Kobayashi, and he won six straight Mustard Belts from 2001 to 2006. Kobayashi was the one who raised the bar in the contest, as his first title year he ate 50 hot dogs, which was twice as many as the previous winning total for the first 25 contests.

Since 2011, the women’s’ division title has been won by just two women – Sonya Thomas won three straight mustard Belts from 2011 to 2013, including the women’s record of 45 hot dogs in 10 minutes in 2012. Since 2014, the women’s’ contest has been dominated by Miki Sudo, who set her best mark with 41 wieners consumed for her fifth straight title in 2018.

The context began in 1972 with Jason Schecter eating 14 hot dogs.  Jay Green (1988, 1989) became the first two-time winner of the contest, and Mike DeVito (1990, 1993, 1994) became the first to win three titles.

With Nathan’s Famous hot dogs becoming an American favorite, one only to know about Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest to know that not only is it summer, but it’s time for grilling dogs on the Fourth of July.

And make sure you have plenty of buns while you’re at it. After all, you never know when the next great professional eater will show up at your next Fourth of July barbecue – and he or she will have to practice.