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Hot Dog History: How Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs Made The Iconic Food An American Symbol

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- If there's one thing Americans love to enjoy on the Fourth of July, it's hot dogs, and the iconic food has an interesting history behind it.

The hot dog is as American as it gets, and Lloyd Handwerker should know.

"My grandfather was Nathan Handwerker," he said.

That's right, the Nathan of Nathan's Famous. A Polish-Jewish immigrant, Nathan started a humble hot dog stand on Coney Island back in 1916.

"He came with no English and just enough money to come to Ellis Island," Handwerker said.

German immigrants brought frankfurters to the United States in the 1800s, but it didn't become an American symbol right away.

Nathan gained customers when he decided to drop his prices to just 5 cents a dog.

"Once the Depression rolled around, that's when the business started taking off because you could feed a family of four for under 50 cents," Handwerker said.

Pretty soon, everyone was coming to Coney Island for a dog.

"The sidewalk out here was lined with people pushing in to the counters. The boardwalk was packed," Handwerker said.

As time passed, hot dogs became synonymous with American culture -- at the cook-out, the baseball game and, of course, that Fourth of July tradition, the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest.

It's hard to say what makes the hot dog so special.

"It's portable, and it's quick," one Nathan's customer said.

"High quality meat on a bun," Handwerker said.

One thing is clear, after more than a century, it's still an American classic.

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