Hot Dog Express

When Oscar Mayer's awe-inspiring Wienermobile took mid-century America on the ride of their lives
Oscar Mayer's first Wienermobile hit the road in 1936, and today six distinctive models still roam across the country. Above: After touring the Bay Area in 2020, this Wienermobile headed south on Highway 1, captured here crossing the famous Bixby Creek Bridge at Big Sur.

During the early 1960s, kids in our neighborhood didn't want to be an astronaut, or a teacher. They didn't even want to be President of the United States.

Nope. They wanted to be an Oscar Mayer wiener.

Didn't we all?

In mid-century America, and certainly in our Eichler neighborhood in San Jose, hot dogs were a staple, a treat, a vital part of the all-American landscape. And what was more American than an Oscar Mayer wiener?

That's why the spotting of the legendary Oscar Mayer Wienermobile parked in a local strip mall one sunny afternoon back then made our mouths drop, and eyes go boingy-boingy, like some Warner Bros. cartoon character.

A 2004 Wienermobile model.

There it was in all its four-wheel glory—the Wienermobile, right before our eyes, parked between the local Safeway and Rexall drugstore.

We ran towards it as if there were Slinkys on the bottom of our tennis shoes, and then touched and examined every inch of it. For the rest of the afternoon, the Oscar Mayer theme song was on heavy rotation in our heads:

"Oh, I'd love to be an Oscar Mayer wiener.
That is what I'd truly like to be.
'Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener,
Everyone would be in love with me."

In 1963, the Oscar Mayer wiener jingle made its radio debut, and the song became such a hit, folks were calling into radio stations to request it. There wasn't a kid on our block who didn't know the tune by heart.

Not only did the Oscar Mayer folks supply a catchy ditty, they supplied America with its processed meats at an affordable price for several generations. We memorized the Oscar Mayer jingle, filled our lunchboxes with their meats, and devoured countless 'dogs' from their familiar yellow packaging.

A scene of hungry eaters with links galore from Oscar Mayer's 'CookOut Fun' cookbook from 1959.

Oscar Mayer's wieners seemed wholesome and chock-full of goodness, even if they weren't. They quickly became part of just about everyone's lunch or dinnertime experience. What was a picnic in the park without them?

Hot dogs equaled excitement and good health, at least to families in the 1950s and '60s. And nothing said 'quality hot dog' like Oscar Mayer.

Wienermobile takes off

Like baked-goods producer Duncan Hines, Oscar Mayer was a real person. Oscar Ferdinand Mayer was born in Bavaria in 1859, and emigrated to the U.S. when he was 14. For the next two decades, based in Chicago, he produced a popular line of German-style meats. Then, in 1904, he launched the brand that bears his name—Oscar Mayer.

In 1936, Oscar's nephew, Carl, came up with the idea of using a 13-foot metal hot-dog-on-wheels to transport a local company spokesperson. Luckily, his uncle, a man with creative vision, had a great sense of humor. He gave this project the green light, and the Wienermobile was off and rolling.

Today, six distinctive Wienermobiles still roam across the country at any given time. They crisscross the states, equipped with an audio system blasting the wiener jingle in 21 different musical styles. It's a true piece of Americana.

Dog in a bun. What fun!

Each Wienermobile is driven by a 'Little Oscar' or 'Hotdogger,' who visits stores, schools, hospitals, and parades spreading hot-dog-and-mustard love. Little plastic Wienermobile whistles are handed out to appreciative kids.

The 1969 Wienermobile model featured Ford Thunderbird taillights, a Chevy motor home frame, and, according to the company, "an average of 187 smiles per gallon."

In 2017, the company expanded the fleet to include the Wienermini, Wiener Rover, and Wienercycle. In Santa Barbara, vehicle fabricator Prototype Source built a smaller, lighter Wienermobile based on the MINI Cooper. There's even a decked-out Wienie-Bago making promotional stops across the country.

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