In 1939, for the first time in American history, the King of England set foot on U.S. soil. After a whirlwind tour of Washington, President Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor invited King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to an informal picnic at their "country home" in Hyde Park, New York. In true American fashion, Mrs. Roosevelt decided that no picnic would be complete without hot dogs. Snobs everywhere, including the President's mother, balked at the thought of a hot dog being presented to His Majesty. But, when the King enjoyed his picnic dinner and then asked for seconds, hot dog enthusiasts everywhere rejoiced.
The National Sausage Casing Dealers' Association immediately saw a marketing opportunity and sent free posters (above and left) to their vendors highlighting the connection between royalty and hot dogs: "Paste enclosed posters in your window... it's news!"
Indeed, it was news. The picnic made headlines in papers across the coutry:
"First Lady Triumphant; Royalty Eats Hot Dogs"
"The Lowly Hot Dog Has Become Ennobled"
"With Mustard is Royal Order"
"Hot Dog Found 'Fit for King'"
"King Bites Dog"
The Times magazine even published a piece on the history of hot dogs - going back to the age of Homer.
Coney Island, the undisputed home of the hot dog, wanted in on the action as well. A month later, in July 1939, they hosted national "Hot Dog Day." The event was announced under the premise that it was the golden anniversary of the hot dog and bun combination, although no one could be certain that the first hot dog "sandwich" had actually been served fifty years prior. It seems likely that the event was an opportunity to capitalize on recent hot dog mania.
Sticking with the royal theme, an official coat of arms was designed for the "birthday." For those of you (like me) who aren't Latin literate, it reads "Hot Dog," and yes, the mustard is also properly labeled.
The National Retail Meat Dealers Association, which was helping to organize the event, appealed to the King himself to confer the title of "Sir Hot Dog" upon the food. In the end, King George didn't show up to knight the dog, so comedian Milton Berle stepped in.