Part 9 of a series in honor of National Hot Dog Month.
Nary a hot-dog stand in the city serves the brand, but we can hardly let Hot Dog Month go without a few words about Chicago’s most famous sausage maker: Oscar Mayer.
After an apprenticeship in a Detroit butcher shop, Mayer, a German immigrant, came to Chicago in the 1870s. He worked Kohlhammer’s market, and then did a six-year stint with Phillip Armour & Co. in the Union Stockyards. In 1883, with his two brothers, Gottfried and Max, he took over the Kolling Meat Market on Sedgwick Street on the North Side and began making hams, bacon, wieners, bockwurst, liverwurst and weisswurst, delivering them all over the city and suburbs by horse-drawn wagon.
Yet it may not have been Mayer’s meats that made him a household name so much as a knack for promotion and technical innovation.
In 1929, the company adopted the Oscar Mayer brand name for all its products — they were among the first meat processors to label bacon and sausages with a brand name. Beginning in 1904, Oscar Mayer also introduced packaged sliced bacon and vacuum-packed cold cuts.
The company added new promotional innovations with its iconic Wienermobile, a 13-foot, sausage-shaped car built by Chicago’s General Body Co., which began cruising Windy City streets in 1936. Its Wiener Whistles became the must-have toy of the 1950s, and the “I’d Love to Be an Oscar Mayer Wiener” song, which hit the airwaves in 1963, is now the oldest continuously used commercial jingle in the history of American advertising.
In 1976, the company added a second memorable tune to its hit parade, which has taught generations of children how to spell “B-O-L-O-G-N-A.”
The “My Bologna” story
Oscar Mayer no longer has a manufacturing presence in Chicagoland — its main plant is in Madison, Wis. — but the brand is now part of Northfield-based Kraft Foods. A fleet of Weinermobiles remains on the road, today with their own blog and Twitter feed, showing that the brand is still on top of promoting itself.
“Eat this!” will resume next week. For now, check out this recipe for Char-Dog Chicago Salad from the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council.
Chicago hot dog series:
- The Chicago-style hot dog: ‘A masterpiece’
- Eat this! The Chicago hot dog, born in the Great Depression
- Know your wiener!
- Friday food porn: Seasons’ sexed-up hot dog
- It takes big buns to hold Chicago hot dogs
- Origins of neon relish and other Chicago hot dog conundrums
- Do only barbarians put ketchup on hot dogs?
- Chicago’s Schmidt the real Mr. Footlong Hot Dog Inventor
- Chicago’s Oscar Mayer has a way. . . .
- Relishing Chicago’s 10 funniest hot-dog joints