Competitive eating contests have been held since at least the 19th century. It’s not known when the first “hot dog-eating contest” was held. Nathan’s often claims that it held the first contest in 1916, but this date has been disputed. An Associate Press article in July 2016 quoted a former president of Nathan’s, who said that the first official Nathan’s hot dog eating contest really took place in 1972.
“Sausage-eating contest” has been cited in print since at least the 1890s. “‘Hot dog’ eating contest” has been cited in print since at least 1917.
Wikipedia: Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest
The IFOCE Nathan’s International July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest is an annual competitive eating competition held at Nathan’s Famous Corporation’s original and best-known restaurant at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York. The event is held on July 4, and is regarded as the world’s most famous hot dog eating contest and a colorful tradition of Independence Day in the United States. In 2006, over 30,000 spectators attended the event, and an additional 1.5 million households watched it live on ESPN.
The 93rd annual contest was held on July 4, 2008. Six-time champion Takeru “Tsunami” Kobayashi and defending champion Joey Chestnut, were tied with 59 hot dogs eaten after the new ten-minute time limit, but Chestnut prevailed by winning a five-dog “eat off” held immediately after the contest. Both the contest and the eat-off were televised live on ESPN, which has held the broadcast rights for this event since 2004.
History and traditions
According to legend, on July 4, 1916 four immigrants had a hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s Famous stand on Coney Island to settle an argument about who was the most patriotic. After ten minutes, Neer Sehgal had eaten thirteen hot dogs and was crowned the victor. The contest has been held nearly every year since, in conjunction with Independence Day at the site. In 1993, a one-time, one-on-one contest under the Brooklyn Bridge was held between Mike DeVito and Orio Ito.
There is a weigh-in with the Mayor of New York City prior to the contest. On the day of the contest, the contestants arrive in the “bus of champions”.
In recent years, guitarist and songwriter Amos Wengler has performed one of the songs he had written for the contest. A person in a hot dog costume dances as Wengler plays. Some of Wengler’s compositions are “Hot Dog Time!”, “Hot Dogs, Hot Dogs” and “Where is the Belt?” by John Jones.
The winner is given possession of the coveted international “bejeweled” mustard-yellow belt. The belt is of “unknown age and value” according to IFOCE co-founder George Shea and rests in the country of its owner. Due to the string of Japanese wins in the first half of the 2000 decade, the belt had been on display in the Imperial Palace in Saitama, Japan near the Nakazato Danchi campus. It was moved to the United States as a result of the 2007 contest win by American Joey Chestnut, and will remain in the United States as a result of his win in 2008.
Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest
The Nathan’s Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Each Fourth of July a group of 20 steely-eyed individuals line up behind a 30-foot table at Nathan’s flagship restaurant on Surf Avenue in Coney Island to begin the world hot dog eating championship. At 12 Noon, crushed by fans and media, the competitors begin the historic 12-minute contest.
According to archives, the Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest was first held in 1916, the year Nathan’s opened on Surf Avenue. The contest has been held each year since then, except in 1941, when it was canceled as a protest to the war in Europe, and in 1971, when it was canceled as a protest to civil unrest and the reign of free love.
10 October 1899, Kinsley (KS) Graphic, pg. 1, col. 3:
A Hoboken man recently defeated a bull dog in a sausage-eating contest. The dog is to be most commended, as he undoubtedly stopped when he had enough.
25 September 1901, Willmar (MN) Tribune, pg. 2, col. 3:
WILLMAR STREET FAIR AND HARVEST HOME FESTIVAL
Sausage Eating Contest for boys of all ages. Prize of $1,50 to boy who eats most sausage and prize of $1 to boy who eats sausage fastest.
24 June 1902, Washington (DC) Post, “Royal Arcanum Outing,” pg. 10, col. 3:
Boys’ sausage eating contest—August Fischer won.
31 August 1902, Washington (DC) Post, “Street Parade Is Abandoned,” pg. 12, col. 2:
Starter of pig race and judge of sausage-eating contest—William W. Admanson,
2 September 1902, Washington (DC) Post, “Knights of Labor Outing,” pg. 2, col. 1:
With everything in the line of amusements fro ma pig chase to a sausage-eating contest to a prize waltz, the Knights of Labor and their friends made merry at Marshall Hall yesterday.
20 April 1917, Ogden (UT) Examiner, pg. 2, col. 3:
The hundred yard dash will be the first event to take place, after the crowd has all taken part in the “hot dog” eating contest which will be the biggest event of the day.
20 July 1919, Syracuse (NY) Herald, “Employes of Can Company Enjoy Picnic,” pg. 16, col. 2:
The fat women took delight in making the 50-yard dash, while the younger women did justice to the food in the “hot dog” eating contest.
1 December 1922, New York (NY) Tribune, pg. 20, col. 3:
Lower East Side Parades To ‘Hot Dog’ Eating Contest
Members of J. W. Gates Association, as “Notables” and What Not, Trail Two Noisy Bands Through 15th., Precinct;, Victor Eats 51 Frankfurters
17 December 1923, Iowa City (Iowa) Press-Citizen, pg. 8 photo caption:
HOT DOG!—John Hunt receives from Louis Becker, secretary of Gates Association, New York City, silver loving cup for winning hot dog eating contest. John only ate fifty-three.
26 November 1927, Portsmouth (NH) Herald, pg. 5, col. 6 ad:
Hot Dog Eating Contest
(Portsmouth’s 9th Annual Barn Dance—ed.)
28 May 1972, New York (NY) Times, “Yesterday Was for Traveling, Strolling, Eating and Relaxing” by Robert D. McFadden, pg. 16, col. 2:
Nearby, at Nathan’s Famous, Jason Schechter, a Brooklyn College student, won the annual hot dog-eating contest by devouring 14 franks in three and a half minutes His prize was a book of certificates for 40 more hot dogs.
3 September 1972, Anniston (AL) Star, “You ate it lady—the whole thing,” pg. 1, col. 6:
NEW YORK (AP)—Nathan’s 23rd annual hot dog eating contest separated the women from the boys at Coney Island Saturday. The woman went to the top.
“I can’t believe I ate the whole thing,” said the winner, a 105-pound brunette, after she finished 12 seven-inch hot dogs in five minutes—rolls and all.
Eighteen-year-old Melody Andorfer, of Astoria, Queens, who belongs to the National Organization for Women and several other liberation groups, drank three large colas with her male runner-up after she beat seven other women and eight men in the contest.
Then she had a sandwich for lunch.
The runner-up, 240-pound Gary Silverman, 19, Brooklyn, asked the winner for a date after he managed to devour 10 hot dogs during the event.
8 April 1974, Titusville (PA) Herald, “Nine Hot Dogs In 2 1/2 Minutes,” pg. 1, col. 1:
NEW YORK (AP)—John Connolly, 22, of Astoria, Queens, ate nine hot dogs in 2 1/2 minutes Sunday to win the annual hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s Famous restaurant in Coney Island.
5 July 1974, Abilene (TX) Reporter-News, “Hot Dog Champ,” pg. 16A, col. 4:
NEW YORK (AP) Roberto Muriel of Brooklyn gobbled 10 frankfurters in 3 1/2 minutes Thursday to win the traditional Fourth of July Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating contest at Coney Island.
4 July 1980, Syracuse (NY) Herald-Journal, pg. A3, col. 4:
And there’s food...the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest at New York’s Coney Island, a contest first judged in 1916 by Eddie Cantor and Sophie TUcker when one of the contestants was Jimmy Durante.
New York (NY) Post
The history of Nathan’s hot dog contest is baloney
By Associated Press July 1, 2016 | 1:02pm
NEW YORK — Nathan’s Famous may be in the hot dog business, but for decades they’ve been peddling a whopper.
“Our objective was to take a photograph and get it in the New York newspaper,” acknowledges Wayne Norbitz, who served as president of Nathan’s for 26 years and still sits on the board of directors.
Norbitz is careful to say that the company’s source for the 1916 story is “legend has it.” He says the first contest actually happened in 1972, and the early chowdowns were all small, sparsely attended affairs.