NILES, Ohio (WKBN) – The people of Niles have been led to believe that the city’s late businessman Harry Stevens invented the hot dog. But it turns out, that may not be true.
On the webpage of the Niles Historical Society, it states that Stevens “gave the world the hot dog.” That Stevens had the first hot dog sold at New York’s Polo Grounds in 1900. Turns out, there’s a college professor in Missouri who says the Harry Stevens story is not true.
“So there is no way, no way on God’s green earth that Harry Stevens invented the term ‘hot dog,'” said 81-year-old Dr. Gerald Cohen.
Dr. Cohen is a professor at Missouri S&T and co-author of the 2004 300-page book “Origin of the Term ‘Hot Dog.'”
“The people of Niles can be very proud of Harry Stevens for all he accomplished in his life, but he didn’t introduce the hot dog to America,” Dr. Cohen said.
As the story goes, at a baseball game on a cold April day in 1900 at New York City’s Polo Grounds, Stevens ordered his concessionaires to buy up all the sausages and rolls nearby and sell them together. The next day, newspaper cartoonist T.A. Dorgan coined the term ‘hot dog.’
“But for one thing, T.A. Dorgan turns out came from San Francisco to New York City in 1903,” Dr. Cohen said.
Another thing — the term ‘hot dog’ was used for sausages in buns as early as 1895 in college newspapers.
“There are loads and loads of examples of the term ‘hot dog’ from 1895 on,” Dr. Cohen said.
“It’s as amazing as anything I’ve ever been associated with,” said Warren native Nick Spano.
Spano is the foremost expert on Stevens. He has pictures of Stevens with Babe Ruth.
When asked about Dr. Cohen’s proof that Stevens did not invent the hot dog, Spano said, “If he didn’t do it, I don’t think it would take away, it wouldn’t detract from the story of Harry Stevens.”
Stevens brought his family from London to Niles in 1882. A few years later, after attending a minor league baseball game, Stevens invented the scorecard and later added concessions.
Eventually, Harry M. Stevens, Inc. would have concession contracts at Churchill Downs, Fenway Park, Giants Stadium and the Astrodome.
Some consider him the creator of the modern ballpark experience.
“But the fact that he was a very successful businessman, absolutely,” Dr. Cohen said.
“This man, if anybody does, deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,” Spano said.
Stevens’ home remained in Niles. In fact, the Stevens house still stands on Robbins Avenue — a short walk from Stevens Park — where visitors are greeted by a Harry Stevens monument. After he died in 1934, he was buried in Niles Union Cemetery.
“Harry Stevens never claimed that he invented the term ‘hot dog,’ just that he was selling hot sausages in a bun,” Dr. Cohen said.
Dr. Cohen also says the first time Stevens admitted to selling hot dogs was in 1906 during a bike race at Madison Square Garden. But it was the idea of his son Frank, not Harry’s. The next day, newspaper cartoonist T.A. Dorgan published a cartoon with hot dogs. All this coming six years after the original story supposedly took place.