Hot Dogs and Diplomacy — Relish The Legacy!

Today’s post comes from Emily Rollman, summer intern in the Office of Public and Media Communications. 

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First Lady Betty Ford putting mustard on a hot dog during a picnic lunch for White House and Executive Office Building staff on the South Lawn, 9/19/1974. (Gerald R. Ford Library, National Archives Identifier 45644173)

Hot dogs have been a staple of American cuisine since they were first introduced by German immigrants in the 19th century. Now the dish is synonymous with cookouts and baseball games—but the humble hot dog has also made appearances on military bases, aboard the Space Shuttle, and at the White House. Indeed, Nelson Rockefeller once said, “No candidate for any office can hope to get elected in this country without being photographed eating a hot dog.”

Over the years, many Presidents have enjoyed hot dogs on the campaign trail and at July 4th celebrations, but the dish has also been instrumental in American foreign affairs events.

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George VI at the picnic at Top Cottage, seated with Sara Delano Roosevelt (FDR’s mother, right), New York Governor Herbert Lehman, and Elinor Morgenthau (wife of Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr., left), June 11, 1939, Hyde Park, NY. (FDR Library)

The most famous Presidential hot dog moment was when FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt invited King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to their Hyde Park home on June 11, 1939, for an informal picnic. The menu included American fare, like strawberry shortcake and hot dogs. The queen supposedly asked Roosevelt how one ate a hot dog. “Very simple. Push it into your mouth and keep pushing it until it is all gone,” he allegedly responded. The casual hot dog dinner was well received by the royals, and the British-U.S. alliance was strengthened as World War II loomed.

George H.W. Bush continued the tradition of hot dogs at diplomatic meals with France’s then-President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine. But perhaps hot dogs most notably changed the course of U.S. foreign involvement in 1999, when President Clinton traveled to Norway to meet and negotiate Middle East Peace with Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel and Chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority. After their meeting, the leaders gathered and enjoyed kosher hot dogs together at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in Oslo.

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President Clinton enjoys some hot dogs after peace talks in Norway. Photographed by Sharon Farmer

Next time you eat a hot dog, remember how the simple sausage dish represents more than American tradition and camaraderie. A hot dog has become a delicious tool essential to strengthening American diplomacy and creating lasting Presidential legacies.

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