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History of Nathan’s Famous Hotdog Eating Contest

The 4th of July is the anniversary of America’s independence from England. Celebrated as Independence Day, the holiday has increasingly become a celebration of freedom and summer in general. Barbeques, fireworks and visits to the pool and the beach are presently the staple activities of the fourth day in July…except if you happen to live in or near Coney Island.

"Nathan's Famous" is a world famous brand but its headquarter eatery is in Coney Island.
"Nathan's Famous" is a world famous brand but its headquarter eatery is in Coney Island.
Photo by Adam Rountree/Getty Images
This building is the original "Nathan's Famous" on Coney Island.
This building is the original "Nathan's Famous" on Coney Island.
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Residents of Coney Island, a historic seaside neighborhood in Brooklyn that is regaled for its legendary boardwalk and amusement parks, considers “Nathan’s Famous Hotdog Eating Contest” to be the single most traditional and iconic tradition of July 4th. Taking place every Independence Day, Nathan’s Famous Hotdog Eating Contest is now a widely televised spectacle that delights audiences near and far every year. In fact, the event has grown so extremely popular that people from other countries log online (especially to video sights like YouTube) to watch it!

“Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest” is an event held by “Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs,” a historic restaurant in Coney Island. “Nathan’s Famous” started out as a nickel hot dog stand in 1916. It was owned and operated by a Polish immigrant named Nathan Handwerker. Today, “Nathan’s Famous” is a world famous brand with eateries all across the globe. However, it arguably most well-known for the hot dog eating contest that takes place at the original Coney Island location every July.

The hot dog eating contest was started as a tradition around 1972. For the first few years it was a purely local event and little known outside the Coney Island enclave. However, in the 1990s television stations started filming the event and broadcasting it nationally—garnering fans and viewers from across the country. The invention of the Internet soon turned the event into an intentional phenomenon and today it is a crowd-drawing spectacle. Winners of the contest regularly eat between 40 and 50 hotdogs in a 10 minute span as crowds cheer them on.

As quirky and unusual as this event is, it blends in well with the history of Coney Island and the lighthearted feel of summer. Even if you can’t get to Coney Island in person, this event is certainly worth Googling.