Posted in HistoryNet
July 22, 2022

That Time FDR Served Hot Dogs to the King of England

What’s good enough to serve to hordes of hungry baseball fans is good enough to serve the King of England — or so President Franklin D. Roosevelt thought. 

And certainly, what’s more American than processed meat grilled over a carcinogenic fire?  

As war loomed over Europe, King George VI, visiting with Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, joined FDR and members of his staff on June 11, 1939, at the president’s Hyde Park, New York, residence. Displaying some gastrodiplomacy, the menu of that day included “Hot Dogs (if weather permits).” 

“What should I do?”

“So often when we try to define a national food culture in the U.S., it’s really difficult to do so,” Smithsonian food historian Dr. Ashley Rose Young said. “In the modern context, people often cite things like McDonald’s or international fast food cultures. But if you go back to the 1800s or even through 1950, when you would ask someone to define American culture, they would go through regional cultures, and the hot dog was a regional food that was gaining popularity outside of the Northeast.”

The two members of British royalty were offered some good ‘ol’ American delicacies — albeit proffered on a silver tray. 

And while no one can be Joey Chestnut, the king and queen mother reportedly asked Roosevelt how exactly one was supposed to properly take down the slender log of meat.  

“Very simple,” FDR retorted. “Push it into your mouth and keep pushing it until it is all gone.” 

The queen elected to use a fork and knife instead.

Gastrodiplomacy takes root

Who needs shuttle diplomacy when you have hot dog diplomacy? The welcoming trend soon took off, with the Roosevelts serving the crown prince and crown princess of Norway the same meal just a mere 15 days later.  

The American embassy in France took note and, possibly to the delight of few and horror of many (Frenchman), “served the delicacy without the bun” to diplomats and “French society in Paris,” according to Atlas Obscura.  

During the war, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow threw a Fourth of July party that featured hot dogs with buns and mustard and, naturally, vodka.  

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev tastes his first American hot dog in Des Moines, Iowa, Sept 22, 1959. After finishing the hot dog, Khrushchev was asked what he thought of it. He replied “OK, excellent, wonderful,” but later amended that it wasn’t enough. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

“While the first decade or so of hot-dog diplomacy could be chalked up to the burst of initial media attention, its endurance signaled a more intentional effort by American diplomats and their counterparts,” Doug Mack wrote in Atlas Obscura. 

In 1954, to celebrate the recently crowned Queen Elizabeth, the American government put its taxpayers’ dollars to good use and airlifted 100 hot dogs and buns (with mustard of course) to the queen.  

Two years later, the royal returned the favor by serving the ubiquitous American sausage to visiting members of the American Bar Association. 

So just think, next time you decide to grill up some wieners, you’re eating like royalty. 

Claire Barrett July 21, 2022 at 11:55PM

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