The image of a gleeful Donald Trump serving up greasy fast food on glittering silver platters to college football Champions in the splendor of the White House State Dining Room caused quite a social media stir.
For some it was nothing short of a democratic homage to Great American fast food, while others were aghast at the tackiness of it. Still others couldn’t help but take note that serving junk food on silver platters is a perfect metaphor for Trumps entire presidency.
But there is a precedent for President’s serving guests a more laid back fast food feast.
When it comes casual cuisine, Donald T loves his Mickey D’s but it may come as a surprise that FDR fancied Nathan’s hot dogs. When it came to enjoying the food of the common folk, Frankie D.’s heart was all a flutter for frankfurters.
Seventy years ago the lowly hot dog was ennobled by Royalty when it was served by President Franklin Roosevelt at a picnic at his country home for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England.
A diplomatic visit made gastronomic history. The Royals ate their first hot dog.
History is Made
It was not an insignificant visit. For the first time in American history a King of England set foot on U.S. soil.
The Royals had been on a hectic 4-day American tour in the spring of 1939. Arriving in Washington DC in June, the King and Queen had been treated to all the formalities one would expect from a State visit. In the same opulent State Dining room where 70 years later platters of Big Macs and McNuggets would be served by the glow of ornate candelabras, the Royal couple were feted with a formal state dinner.
After a whirlwind tour of DC, and a visit to the N.Y. World’s Fair where they were given the red carpet treatment, FDR invited the weary Monarchs to a casual picnic at his bucolic home in Hyde Park, N.Y. The Hudson Valley provided an informal backdrop for this visit of the British sovereigns and the nation’s first family.
Eleanor Roosevelt decided no All American picnic would be complete without hot dogs.
But these would be no ordinary dogs.
No, these would be Coney Island hot dogs. Since Nathans considered itself “the king of hot dogs” it made sense that their dogs were fit for a King. So straight from Surf Avenue in Brooklyn to upper crust Hyde Park the hot dogs were ordered.
When word got out that plebian hot dogs were to be served to the King and Queen of England the public was dubious at best.
Snobs everywhere including Roosevelt’s own mother balked at the thought of a hot dog being presented to His Majesty. His proper mother Sara Delano was horrified not only at the choice of food but of inviting cooks, gardeners and other staffers to the picnic.
Snooty folks looked down on the lowly frankfurter, though in fact the hot dog could trace its family history farther back than any living king.
A Hot Dog Makes Him Lose Control
But the pearl clutchers could relax.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth loved it. For the royal couple this was a novelty never having sampled a hot dog before. The King it was said had been looking forward to sampling “this most favorite American snack.”
Sitting on the front porch of FDR’s new stone cottage overlooking the Hudson River was the perfect relaxed setting to enjoy the picnic. The hot dogs were served on a silver tray but the Royals like everyone else ate off paper plates, albeit on a table and not balancing it like others on their laps.
Unsure how to properly chow down on a hot dog encased in a doughy bun, the Queen politely asked the President for some etiquette advise how to navigate a hot dog.
“Very simple. Push it into your mouth and keep pushing it until it is all gone,” the President was supposed to have said. Demurely, the Queen elected to use a knife and fork instead.
The King seemed to have no such reservation and enjoyed it with gusto, so much so he asked for seconds, which made front page headlines the next day. The “N.Y. Times”headline announced: “King Tries Hot Dog and Asks For More.” According to the article, “the King enjoyed his 2 hots dogs with beer.”
It was in fact front page stuff when King George VI attacked the hot dog at the Little White House picnic at Hyde Park. Wires burned with descriptions of the event and wireless, radio, and cable carried the word around the world.
Headlines ranged from “King Bites Dog;” “With Mustard, is Royal Order” and “First Lady Triumphant; Royalty Eats Hot Dogs.”
Hot Dog Summit
Crafty as always, FDR had more on his mind than a menu when he called for this picnic . To him this would be an opportunity. Call it hot dog diplomacy.
The trip was undertaken in the shadows of WWII and Britain needed U.S. support. At the time, U.S. foreign policy was isolationists. On the brink of war, FDR realized the necessity of fostering closer political and social ties with Britain.
He needed to win the hearts of the American people.
Roosevelt planned every minute detail of the visit to ensure the King’s success in winning over sympathy and support of the American people. The picnic was the perfect setting for FDR to show that despite being royalty they were “just folks”
FDR hoped the visit would change the perceptions of the American people which in turn allowed him to do more for Britain.
Three months after the picnic England declared war on Germany and FDR was able to convince Congress and the American people to take steps to aid Britain while still maintaining American neutrality.
Did these hot dogs help save the Western world from Nazis?
That’s hard to say but several years later entrenched in the War ourselves, Roosevelt was such a fan of Hot Dog Diplomacy he had Nathan’s hot dogs sent to Yalta when he met with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.
The rest is history.