A Brief History of Hot Dog Diplomacy

Man holding an American hot dog.

American hot dogs have played an essential role in world diplomacy. (Image: Anteroxx via Dreamstime)

So, what is hot dog diplomacy? And how did the hot dog come to be a White House diplomatic symbol?

The story goes like this: 

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In 1939 — when the war drums were sounding across Europe — the British royalty visited the American president Franklin D. Roosevelt. And this journey included a visit to FDR’s family estate in Hyde Park, New York. It became an informal affair to foster friendship and casual conversation in the laid-back countryside, away from the usual White House setting.

The hot dog picnic lunch

So Eleanor Roosevelt organized a picnic lunch for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (mother to the current queen). Hot dogs were served on a silver tray, and the king ate from a paper plate. 

Exterior of FDR's Springwood Estate in Hyde Park, New York.
When hosting the British royalty at their estate in Hyde Park, New York, Eleanor Roosevelt organized a picnic lunch featuring hot dogs. (Image: Liz Van Steenburgh via Dreamstime)

In a later interview, James Roosevelt, FDR’s son, recalled the king asking: “What should I do?” And his father, President Roosevelt, answered: “Very simple. Put it into your mouth and keep on chewing until you finish it.”

The American media went crazy about this informal hot dog affair. And from this, hot dog diplomacy was born.

The origin of the American hot dog

German immigrants introduced the hot dog to America in the 19th century, and it quickly became the nation’s staple cuisine. It appears everywhere, from parties with friends to baseball games, and from military bases to presidential campaigns.

And after the much-publicized FDR moment, several presidents have used hot dog diplomacy in American foreign affairs events.

Hot dog diplomacy for a Russian leader

In 1959, Nikita Kruschev made a historical tour of the United States. And you guessed right: The Soviet Union leader got to enjoy the American diplomatic food. He’s said to have had his first taste at a packing plant in Des Moines. And it is alleged that before enjoying his hot dog, it had to be checked for radiation by a Geiger counter.

Hot dog diplomacy for the Prince at Camp David

Before the young Prince Charles visited America, Queen Elizabeth II had also served hot dogs at a royal banquet at Buckingham Palace in 1957. This was a memorable party where the visiting American Bar Association lawyers enjoyed a meal from home — among other meals.

So when Prince Charles and Princess Anne visited America in 1970, hot dogs had to be on the menu. And apparently, President Nixon’s daughters organized a visit to Camp David, where they enjoyed swimming, shooting, and hot dogs.

George H.W. Bush’s hot dog diplomacy

George H.W. Bush continued this American tradition at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine. Bush served as the American president from 1989 to 1993. This time it was France’s then-president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who got a piece of American hot dog diplomacy.

Hot dog diplomacy was enjoyed by France's President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine.
France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, enjoyed hot dog diplomacy at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine. (Image: Christopher King via Dreamstime)

The Middle East peace negotiation 

In 1999, President Clinton went to Norway for a meeting to foster peace in the Middle East. He met with Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority.

Notably, the leaders enjoyed kosher hot dogs after the meeting. The meal served at the U.S. Ambassador’s place in Oslo was a remarkable symbol that Israel and Palestine had struck a peace deal.

Obama’s failed hot dog diplomacy

Lastly, Obama made an effort to build a lasting relationship with Iran in 2009. Again, Iranian diplomats were invited to celebrate the Fourth of July with a barbecue at the U.S. embassy — and discuss peace efforts. But this time, the mighty influence of the hot dog wasn’t successful, as the meeting never happened after a contentious election that year.

The great American treat

Hot dogs have become a unifying factor in America. It’s a meal that everyone loves, whether you are the president or a truck driver. And as Nelson Rockefeller once said: “No candidate for any office can hope to get elected in this country without being photographed eating a hot dog.”

Anytime you enjoy your hot dog, remember its place in American diplomacy. It’s more than a delicious American tradition; it’s a meal that has built relationships among nations. Better yet, it’s a meal that has created a lasting impact.

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