BBC looks at Niles, hot dog

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NILES — If you’ve ever been to a baseball game, or any sporting event for that matter, you may have enjoyed a hot dog or two while watching the game. Or, you might just enjoy the occasional hot dog.

The creation of the hot dog is credited to Harry Stevens, inventor, concessionaire and avid baseball fan.

Stevens, who was originally from Derby, England and immigrated to Niles in the 1880s, is the reason why the British Broadcasting Corporation has reached out to members of the Niles Historical Society and local newspapers.

“I’ve recently filmed a piece in Derby about his fascinating story,” said Sophia Wollschlager of the BBC. “The piece about Harry will be featured in one of our antique programs, Bargain Hunt.”

Bargain Hunt is a game show where two teams of antique experts buy different items at antique fairs. The goal for the team members is to later sell the items and make a profit. While the teams are shopping, the host explores the local area and its history.

“When I read about the curious claim that the invention of the hot dog might be attributed to Harry, I became intrigued and started looking into any possible leads to firm up this story,” Wollschlager said.

Wollschlager’s search for images and information on Stevens brought her all the way to the United States where she got in touch with Stevens’ family members and fans.

Nick Spano, retired Trumbull County teacher and Stevens enthusiast, said Stevens was a steelworker in Derby, but moved to America when he felt he could no longer support his family.

“He ended up in Niles,” Spano said. “At that time, semi-pro baseball was very big in this area.”

This is where, Wollschlager said, Stevens passionately fell in love with baseball.

In 1887, Stevens’ company, Harry M. Stevens Inc., was founded when he revised and reissued the baseball scorecard allowing fans to better follow along with the game’s action.

His company was a catering business providing food and drinks to game spectators.

Spano said before concessions, back then people would take picnic baskets to the games. Eventually, Stevens and his company grew, relocating to New York City where he ran the concessions at the New York Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants.

Spano said they sold a lot of beer, soda, hard boiled eggs and peanuts, but on a very cold day in April, Stevens became frustrated when nothing was selling.

“He sent all of his vending people out into the streets of New York to buy Vienna rolls,” Spano said. “[It’s] like a hot dog bun now. And dachshund sausages.” Thus, dachshund sandwiches were born. However, that name quickly faded as a New York Post cartoonist coined the term “hot dog” because of the comedic inability to spell dachshund.

The Avenue and Main, a non-profit organization focusing on beautifying and unifying the city of Niles, holds a day in Stevens’ honor.

“He did everything he could to promote Niles,” Debbie Barber of The Avenue and Main Board of Directors said. “He just loved this city. He probably would think, ‘you don’t have to honor me, but to honor the city and do things for the city.’ That was what he was all about.”

Harry Stevens Hot Dog Day is held each July with activities for all ages.

The episode of Bargain Hunt featuring Stevens will air later this year on BBC One.