Chicago's Vienna Beef Marks Milestone, Opens New History Museum

Lisa Fielding
May 30, 2018 - 2:04 pm

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- It was back in 1893 when the first hot dog was introduced at the World's Fair in Chicago.

"Two immigrants from Austria-Hungary came from Vienna, that's how our name came to be, to sell their sausages at the World's Fair," said Tom McGlade, V.P, Marketing, E-Commerce.

The partners opened the first Vienna Sausage store the following year on the near West Side and soon expanded by selling to other stores and restaurants. One hundred-twenty-five years later, Vienna Beef is opening its archives to the public.

"We've officially opened our new history museum inside our headquarters on Damen. We've got the Vienna Beef Hall of Fame, which recognizes the classic Vienna Beef hot dog stands, who have made their mark in terms of longevity and community support, we have a huge mural of the timeline of all the pictures of Vienna. We have a library here, old photographs, artifacts, all kinds of cool things," said McGlade.

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Vienna started out as one of the first branded hot dogs.

"We have logos dating back to 1893. Many of the signs and logos look similar over the years."

The classic Chicago style hot dog is known worldwide.

"Along with deep dish pizza, Italian beef, and Chicago style hot dogs, we are part of the culture and regional food preferences in the Chicago market," he said.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Vienna Beef employs 350 employees and manufactures 125 million hot dogs a year.

"The lion share of that is between Memorial Day and Labor Day. At Wrigley Field alone, they sell 17,000 hot dogs a game."

A true Vienna Beef Chicago Style dog is topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onion, bright green relish, sliced tomatoes, a kosher pickle, sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt, in a steamed poppy seed bun.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Ketchup?

"No ketchup. We call it here at Vienna, the "k word." After age 17, you hit the point of decision in your life where Ketchup is no longer allowed. Putting Ketchup on a hot dog masks the great vegetables on the dog. We already have a tomatoes on the Chicago style dog so it's already represented," he laughed. "We feel that the Chicago style hot dog has earned its way in the public's mind and ketchup is not part of that equation."

McGlade guesses the great ketchup debate began back in the 1930's.

"It was invented because money was scarce, it was the depression. We were able to serve a wonderful meal with a salad on top. We call it dragging it through the garden. For a nickel, in the 1930's you could have a wonderful meal on a bun for an economical price," he said.

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Vienna Beef’s 125th anniversary events will continue all summer long.

"We kicked off the celebration with the opening of the museum, we have a truck that we've reconditions and we're making it look like one of the early delivery trucks form the 1940s. We've dressed up a Mini Cooper that will be a virtual rolling museum. We finish our celebration on Aug. 1 where we will be honoring all 125 inductees in the company’s 'Hot Dog Hall of Fame'. There are more than a thousand hot dogs in Chicago and they will be inducting it's 125th member into the Hall of Fame," McGlade said. 

There is also a memory wall inside the museum. McGlade encourages people to come in a share their favorite memories about eating Vienna Beef hot dogs.

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The Official Hot Dog of the Chicago History Museum’s 2018 Chicago Hot Dog Fest is held August 10-12.

Customers can celebrate with their favorite hot dog stand and share “Vienna Beef Memories” and photos through social media using the hashtag #125YearsOfVB, with the chance to participate in the company’s commemorative anniversary poster.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

"One-hundred-twenty-five years is amazingly long, especially being privately owned. We're proud that the employees and customers have been supportive and strong in terms of their commitment to the brand. Vienna beef is really love on a bun and we're proud of that," McGlade said.

The free museum will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday starting Wednesday, May 30.