Origins of Some of America’s Favorite Foods

HOT DOG: NEW YORK, NY – 1860s-70s
While the classic frankfurter, or “dachshund” sausage, was developed back in Frankfurt, Germany, it wasn’t until an innovative German immigrant in Brooklyn, probably Charles Feltman, served them up in rolls that the hot dog that we know and love today began to take shape. They were further popularized in Chicago in 1893, when a vendor at the World’s Columbian Exposition sold them to the hungry masses. Apparently, the rolls were used as a serving implement because the white gloves typically given to customers to handle the sausages kept getting stolen.

CHEESEBURGER: PASADENA, CA – 1926
Hamburgers were based on meat patties eaten by nomadic Mongols under Genghis Khan in the 12th century. The humble cheeseburger, however, owes its inception to a 16-year-old kid in Pasadena. Back in 1926, Lionel Sternberger, the son of the owner of a little sandwich joint called The Rite Spot, decided to slap a piece of American cheese on top of a burger patty as it was frying. Thus, the cheeseburger was born.

BUFFALO WINGS: BUFFALO, NY – 1964
Teressa Bellissimo, co-owner of the Anchor Bar with her husband Frank, first whipped up Buffalo wings in response to a sudden Friday-night surge of customers, led by her son Dominic, hungry for meat. Due to a shipping mistake, the Anchor Bar had a surplus of chicken wings instead of the usual backs and necks used for their spaghetti sauce, so Teressa decided to fry them up and douse them in hot pepper sauce, thus creating the signature bar food for the rest of time.

REUBEN SANDWICH: NEW YORK, NY – 1914
There’s some debate surrounding the origins of the Reuben sandwich, corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing, with some folks saying that it was invented in Omaha in 1920, but its first reference in print, in a 1926 edition of Theatre Magazine, points to a special sandwich made at the now-defunct Reuben’s Delicatessen by proprietor Arnold Reuben in 1914.

NACHOS: EAGLE PASS, TX – 1943
The place where nachos were first created by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya was Ciudad Acuña in Mexico, at a restaurant called the Victory Club. But since he served them to a group of soldiers’ wives from nearby Fort Duncan in Eagle Pass, it was really the beginning of their popularity in this country. Having arrived at the restaurant right after it closed, the wives were delighted to find that Nacho would still serve them food. He whipped up a snack based on the ingredients he had. Deep-fried tortillas, shredded cheese, and jalapeños, and “Nacho’s especiales” were born.

NEW YORK-STYLE PIZZA: NEW YORK, NY – 1905
Gennaro Lombardi opened the first pizzeria in America, Lombardi’s, in 1905 in Manhattan’s Little Italy, which his employees soon fractured off from to create their own authentic, Neapolitan-esque pizzerias all over the city. It wasn’t until the 1940s, though, that New York pizza truly took off, when soldiers returning from Europe after the war began to demand the pizza they tried in Italy.

CHICAGO-STYLE DEEP DISH: CHICAGO, IL – 1942
Believe it or not, the first deep-dish pizza in Chicago was served at Pizzeria Uno, and was thought up by either the founder, Ike Sewell, or the original Uno’s pizzaiolo, Rudy Malnati, whose son Lou went on to found his own Chicago deep-dish empire.

ICE CREAM CONE: NEW YORK, NY or ST. LOUIS, MO – 1904
While edible cones can be dated to the 1820s in France, it wasn’t until the early 1900s that someone thought to place America’s favorite frozen treat on top. However, it isn’t known whether it was Italo Marchioni, who filed a patent in New York for ice cream held by pastry cups, or George Bang, who allegedly ran out of bowls at the St. Louis Exposition and began hawking ice cream in rolled waffles, who truly invented the ice cream cone.

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES: WHITMAN, MA – 1930
Quite ironically, the famous chocolate chip cookie was invented by a dietician, Ruth Graves Wakefield, who, in 1930 in her Toll House Inn kitchen, added chocolate chips to a normal batch of her cookies, expecting the dough to absorb the chocolate and thereby become chocolate cookies when fully baked.

BURRITO: LOS ANGELES, CA – 1920s
The concept of a burrito, a tortilla wrapped up with beans and meat, was developed by Mesoamerican peoples hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago, but genius marketers didn’t become hip to the idea until the 1920s, when it was first served on restaurant menus in LA, starting with Alejandro Borquez’s Sonora Cafe. They were definitely eaten in California far prior to that moment, most likely by Sonoran workers in the Central Valley area, but didn’t include the huge array of fillings we see today until around the 1950s.

TATER TOTS: OREGON/IDAHO – 1953
Tater Tots are actually a registered trademark. They were first developed by F. Nephi Grigg and Golden Grigg for their potato company, Ore-Ida, as a way of dealing with leftover scraps of potatoes from their manufacturing process. They decided to chop them up, filter them through a porous sieve with flour and seasonings, and clip the resulting mixture into nuggets. The tots were a huge hit with early tasters, but the Griggs originally charged too little for them, and people were turned off by the low price. They didn’t become popular until costs were raised.

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