The Story Of The Man Who Introduced Hotdogs To Baseball Fans

The story of the creation of the sandwich (as told by History) is a familiar one: The 18th century Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, asked a cook for a quick meal he could eat without getting up from playing cards or getting his hands dirty. A piece of meat was promptly encased between slices of bread for the English noble. The simple sandwich remains a huge hit, but who was the "Earl of Sandwich of the Hotdog World," so to speak, who introduced this delicious savory treat to the lives of baseball fans?

Harry M. Stevens was born in London in 1855, according to The Niles Historical Society. Little is known about his life until he moved to Niles, Ohio, in 1892. While attending a baseball game, he noticed that the refreshments were sorely lacking. Not only did he innovate with his introduction of scorecards (combining them with soon-to-be-lucrative advertising), but he lined up delicious treats for fans. The classic sausage-and-roll combination is known to have been enjoyed before Stevens sold his first hotdog at New York's Polo Grounds in 1900, but his masterstroke was adding iconic toppings like mustard. Thus the hotdog as it's known today was born, and firmly entrenched in the culture of baseball parks.

The Rise Of 'The Hotdog King'

He also pioneered the enjoyment of peanuts at sports events. According to the Niles Historical Society, Stevens grew them on his land in Virginia as his delicious empire grew and had them sent to New York. He then expanded his menu as well as his coverage of sports events, with his food served to fans of baseball, boxing, horse racing, and everything in between. As The National Baseball Hall of Fame reports, he knew his customers' tastes well: "Baseball crowds are great consumers of hot dogs, peanuts and bottled drinks, while heavier food is popular at racetracks," he stated in an interview in 1915. "Prizefight crowds go in for mineral waters, near-beer and hot dogs ... but the hot dog is the all-year-round best seller."

Stevens died in 1934, age 78. He had achieved great fame, and the press mourned his passing. Perhaps acclaimed sportswriter Grantland Rice summarized Stevens best: "Harry Stevens was something more than the man who gave fame to the hot dog, the sandwich and the peanut. Administering to the needs or desires of many millions, he held the affection and the admiration of all who knew him."

The Baseball Hall of Fame reports that the Harry M. Stevens company was acquired by Aramark in 1994.