Hotdog eating contests have become as patriotic on the 4th of July as fireworks and barbecues are, but how and why did this strange tradition become so popular on the nation's day to celebrate independence?

According to urban legend, it all began on July 4, 1916 on Coney Island when a hotdog vendor named Nathan Handwerker, who happened to be a Polish immigrant, overheard other fellow immigrants in a scuffle about who among them was the most American and patriotic.

To prevent the fight from escalating, Nathan proposed that any man among them who could "devour the most franks" would be declared the most patriotic of them all.

Thus, a new American patriotic tradition was born. 

The winner of that first hotdog eating contest was Irish immigrant Jim Mullen, who set the first record by stuffing his face with 13 hotdogs in 12 minutes.

At a nickel for every hotdog, Handwerker's business boomed after that publicity stunt and he kept the 4th of July contest tradition alive every year since then, with the exception of July 4, 1941, when the event was canceled in protest of the war in Europe.

His business soon expanded as the iconic restaurant on Coney Island and expanded further still to become the famous chain it is today.

Nathan's hotdog eating contest has now become synonymous with Independence Day celebrations. Last Friday, crowds gathered once again to witness the spectacle of the champion hotdog eaters for the annual weigh-in at Nathan's in Brooklyn's Borough Hall.

What began as a tussle on Coney Island about a century ago—over who was the most patriotic—has become an annual tradition, with contestants flying in from all over the world.

"The contest has come to represent the spirit of July 4th itself. That is why people go to the event. It is kind of a pilgrimage to the center of July 4th and the center of freedom," said George Shea, who currently masterminds the annual contest.

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