The Surprising History of Your Favorite Ballpark Foods

The Surprising History of Your Favorite Ballpark Foods

Cheapism; cveltri/istockphoto; digi_guru/istockphoto

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The Surprising History of Your Favorite Ballpark Foods
Cheapism; cveltri/istockphoto; digi_guru/istockphoto

America's Pastime Cuisine

Taking the family to a baseball game is one of summer's best traditions, and eating all that ballpark food might be even better than watching the game. No matter what stadium you go to, there's always going to be a handful of concessions at every one, and they've practically become synonymous with baseball. But how did that come to be? Here's the interesting and sometimes surprising history of classic ballpark eats.

Eating Nachos at a Baseball Game Ballpark Sports Stadium

1. Nachos

The invention of nachos can be tied to one man: Ignacio Anaya. In 1940, he was working as the maître d’hôtel at the Victory Club restaurant in Piedras Negras, Mexico, a town on the U.S.-Mexico border. After hours, a group of inebriated women wanted something to eat, so he whipped up some fried tortillas topped with colby cheese and jalapeno slices. Everyone loved them, and since Anaya's nickname was Nacho, they asked for "Nacho's special."

But that's still a far cry from the gooey canned cheese that are ballpark style nachos' signature. We have another man, Frank Liberto, to thank for that. He ran a family food business that served peanuts and snow cones, and he decided in the 1970s that nachos would make perfect stadium fare if they were easier to produce. So he found the right chips and jalapenos, and created the emulsified canned cheese product. The new product was introduced at a Texas Rangers game in 1976, and the rest is history.

Ballpark Hotdog

2. Hot Dogs

The history of sausage goes back forever, but we have German immigrants to thank for hot dogs. They brought the frankfurter with them, though we don't know exactly how they came to be known as hot dogs, it probably happened around the turn of the 20th century

We do know how they became ubiquitous in baseball stadiums, though. London immigrant and concessionaire Harry Stevens is credited with creating the modern baseball game food experience. He sold peanuts, sandwiches, and eventually hot dogs at all kinds of sports venues by the late 1800s.  

Related: 12 Crazy MLB Ballpark Foods 

Cracker Jacks

3. Cracker Jack

Frederick Rueckheim immigrated to Chicago from Germany in the late 1860s. There, he invested in a popular popcorn stand and created a molasses, peanut, and popcorn mix. In 1873, his brother Louis Rueckheim joined him in Chicago, and the brothers created a new popcorn company. In 1896, the name of the product became Cracker Jack, and legend has it that someone tasted it an proclaimed, "That's crackerjack!" slang at the time for excellent. 

In 1908, a little song was written called "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," which may be the very best free advertising a brand has ever gotten. A couple years later, the company started including toys in the Cracker Jack boxes. Today, it's still sold at most Major League Baseball parks. 

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Beer at the game.

4. Beer

Beer goes back thousands of years, but without it, "professional baseball as we know it today may not exist." That's because in baseball's first-ever pro league, a man named Willian Hulbert created the National League with a strict set of rules for the players and the teams, including nixing selling beer to fans.

By 1880, teams had had enough. The Cincinnati Reds decided to start selling beer on Sundays, and Hulbert expelled the team from the league at the end of the season. Soon, they joined with other teams fed up with the rules, and formed the American Association in 1882. The "Beer and Whisky League" sold game tickets for half the price of Hulbert's league, and beer on top of it. Clearly, you know which mindset ultimately won the popularity war. 

Three young brothers eating peanuts watching baseball game outdoors.

5. Peanuts

Concessionaire extraordinaire Harry Stevens is credited with bringing not only the hot dog to ballparks, but peanuts too. In 1895, he sold advertising space to a peanut company on the scorecards handed out at the stadium. In exchange, the company gave him peanuts for payment, which he turned around and sold to fans. Once "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" came out in 1908, it constantly reminded people to get a bag of peanuts.