Hot Dog Cart history can be traced back to the earliest of times. The first food carts probably came into being at the time of the early Greek and Roman civilizations, with traders converting old hand-carts and smaller animal drawn carts into mobile trading units. Carts have the distinct advantage of being able to be moved should a location not be productive in sales, as well as transporting goods to and from storage to the place chosen from which to trade. One of the most influential times of history on the street vending business is that of Ancient Rome. One of the ways that people entertained each other and themselves was during popular gatherings of the Roman Coliseum. Spectators would come to see the different contests and While some visitors managed to bring their own goodies to eat, others didn’t. This was noticed and before long, tables were set up during competitions to feed and refresh those who were willing to pay. Breads and wines were often offered to those with an empty belly and plenty of money in their pockets. This became quite popular and many were becoming quite wealthy off of these spectators.
Another advance in Hot Dog Cart history is the medieval fair. During medieval times, very much like Roman times, people often gathered in flocks in search of entertainment. The medieval society often put together fairs that brought people from miles around to see contests and other spectacles. When these fairs would gather, part of the entertainment was the food that was offered. As is similar with modern fairs, different types of foods were available that weren't necessarily available when fairs weren't in town. This required stands and carts that were mobile and could be moved easily from one place to another. Looking at modern fairs today you can see the influences early fairs may have had on them.
In America as early as 1691 In New Amsterdam (now known as New York City) begins regulating street vendors selling food from pushcarts. It had emerged as an attractive occupation for new immigrants who had little money and few opportunities to find other jobs. Vending enabled them to achieve financial stability while they struggled to find their footing in a new world. Before long, selling food and general items on the streets became so popular that by the turn of the century, there were more than 25,000 vendors in Manhattan alone. Street vending allowed immigrants who possess little money and face language barriers to sell goods in ethnic neighborhoods where they are most comfortable
The use of carts exploded with the coming of the railways. More highly mobile customers required food and drink while traveling to their destination and few early trains had any form of buffet or dining car. Locomotives also needed to stop regularly to take on coal and water, and hence their passengers would depart the train to use the toilets, eat and drink. Finally, when passengers did arrive at their destination or at a point when they needed to switch trains or modes of transport, some form of food and drink was usually required, particularly for poorer passengers who could not afford to stay in the railway-owned hotels. The expansion of the food vendors lead to a mutually successful relationship, with some of the first concession stand laws being created.
The railways also brought another benefit: a plentiful supply of new suitably sized carts. Often traders requiring new carts would simply buy old railway station luggage carts and adapt them to serving food, knowing that these were sized and scaled to fit in between the necessary doors and lifts.
The history of American food cart dates back many years, establishing mobile dining and street food as part of American’s dining habits since the late 17th century. At that point food carts could be found in many of the larger cities on the east coast. Since then, food carts have taken a front seat in the world of American street food and continue to be a part of our food culture.
In 1866 The Chuck wagon is invented by Charles Goodnight to feed cattlemen and wagon trains traversing the old West. This also helped to expand the use of food carts throughout the country and by the mid-1890s sausage vendors were selling their products outside of student dorms at eastern universities. The portable carts that they used where commonly referred to as “dog wagons”, and are often cited as the precursor to what is now known as the modern day hot dog cart.
In 1936 Oscar Mayer rolls out the first portable hot dog cart The Weinermobile. It is of interest to note that the first patent for hot dog carts predates the “Wienermobile”. In 1926, Frances E. Coffey came up with blueprints for what is remarkably similar in design to the modern hot dog vending cart. The cart had provisions for an ice box, cooking plate, steam table, and several storage bins.
Since then the Hot Dog Cart has changed a little, more modern materials and streamlined production have made the hot dog cart more affordable and accessible than any time in history.
Interested in a great book about Hot Dog History? Then you will want to read "Man Bites Dog" By Bruce Kraig and Patty Carroll
Check out these other great pages about hot dog history!