America's Complicated Relationship With the 'Hot Dog' Dog
The name Dachshund is German for badger dog which both shows its heritage and the reason the breed was developed to go after badgers in their holes and face down one of the fiercest wild animals. The dogs came to North America as part of the wave of Germans in the mid 1800’s.
The early history of "hot dogs" is lost in time, but early on the Frankfurters were called Dachshund sausages. The exact origin of the term "hot dogs" is unknown, but the most common story is that it started on college campuses where the joke was that the pushcarts selling the sausage were made out of real dogs. Somehow the name "hot dog" stuck. At the turn of the last century, German-Americans had a strong influence in America. German was the first language for many and German beer, the first kindergartens, the cultural institutions and the popular Dachshunds swept the continent.
That changed almost overnight as America dropped its neutrality and declared war on Germany in 1917. Everything German was the enemy. Sauerkraut became liberty cabbage just as generations later during the second Iraq war French fries disappeared and were replaced by freedom fries. German Shepherds became Alsatians and Dachshunds became liberty hounds. But the association with the German enemy and the evil Kaiser Wilhelm II who had two Dachshunds could not be cured with a new name.
Across the country there were reports of Dachshund owners taking their dogs for a walk being verbally or physically attacked. Dachshunds were stomped to death by angry crowds.
After a Dachshund was killed on a street in Chicago his owner, who ran a kennel, shot all of his dogs to avoid confrontations. In Columbus, Ohio, residents celebrated renaming Schiller Park Washington Park by killing a large number of Dachshunds and throwing their bodies into a pit. These violent acts were not confined to America. British novelist Graham Greene wrote that during the war he witnessed the public stoning of a dog.
These incidents were not random acts of madness. The Office of War Information, while not persecuting dissidents for disloyalty, published posters featuring Dachshunds as the symbol of the brutal Hun. One graphic poster shows Uncle Sam’s hand choking to death a Dachshund wearing a German helmet and an Iron Cross. In other posters, the Dachshunds were chased or killed by bulldogs, the symbol of the United States Marine Corps. A particularly disturbing poster shows a young boy pointing a gun at his pet dog.
Some Dachshund owners protected their dogs with humor. In Edwardsville, Ill., a Dachshund was led on his leash while wearing a sign reading "U-144," as in the German U-boat submarine. A sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote that his little Dachshund Henry “is so patriotic he wouldn’t eat Frankfurter sausage until we changed the name to victorytwurst.”
After the war, American and Canadian service men returned home, many times with German wives and Dachshunds. The hostility eased, but a year after the war the American Kennel Club changed the name of the breed to badger dog. Four years later it brought back Dachshund. The negative image was strong enough for the producers of “The Wizard of Oz” to replace the original Otto the Dachshund with Toto the Carin terrier. During World War II, Hitler and Tojo were sufficient symbols of evil and Dachshunds were left alone.
After World War II, Germans again adopted Dachshunds as their national symbol. Smiling cartoon dogs on the front pages of newspapers suggested that people be nice to each other.
Dachshunds were fully reestablished in the public mind when a dog named Waldi was named the mascot of the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Today in America, Dachshunds run in wiener dog races and the worst thing that happens to them is being forced to wear a hot dog bun costume in public. But they are so damn cute.