TBT: The History of the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest
Every July 4th thousands of people flock to Coney Island, in Brooklyn, New York to take in the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. Millions more tune in on ESPN to catch it on tv. This contest is an American tradition that has been going on for a very long time. But how did it all begin?
According to legend, in 1916 Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker opened up a hot dog stand in Coney Island. It was there that four other immigrant men were arguing over which one of them were the most patriotic. Handwerker came up with a solution: the most patriotic would be determined by whoever could eat the most hot dogs. In the end, it was Irishman James Mullen who took home the first victory, but it is unknown as to how many hot dogs he ate.
Aside from a few years, Coney Island has hosted the Nathan’s Famous contest every single year since that legendary 1916 Independence Day. However, the first actual recorded hot dog contest was in 1972. That year it was Brooklyn College student Jason Schechter who was crowned champion after eating 14 hot dogs in 3 ½ minutes. His prize? 40 free hot dogs.
Up until 2001, the famous hot dog contest was a much less-serious event than it is now. Competitive eaters from all over would come to Coney Island to see how many hot dogs they could devour, but it tended to be more of a lighthearted joke. People showed up, everybody had a good time, and the results didn’t really matter too much to anyone, including the eaters. But in 2001, Takeru Kobayashi showed up from Japan after intensely training for it, and ate 50 hot dogs (double the amount of the previous year’s winner). Kobayashi brought a sense of competitiveness every single year that the event traditionally lacked. He would go on to win the contest for the next five years.
Then in 2007, the hot dog contest would dramatically change forever as Californian Joey Chestnut threw his hat into the ring. He took down the seemingly unbeatable Kobayashi, eating 66 hot dogs in ten minutes, compared to Kobayashi’s 63. Like a broken record, Chestnut has won the contest every year since, except in 2015 when he lost by two to Matt Stonie.
Joey Chestnut has regained his form since his 2015 loss, setting records each of the previous years, eating 70, 72, and 74 (last year) hot dogs to win the competition. In many senses, Chestnut has become an American hero. He took the belt away from the Japanese Kobayashi who was seen as unbeatable in an American tradition. Every year he is cheered on by millions of Americans from around the country because what is more American than watching one of our own citizens dominate and set records in a hot dog eating contest? He has become a household name and will look to extend his dominance today at 12:00 p.m. at the historic Coney Island. Make sure to tune in on ESPN2.