Murray Handwerker, 89, Dies; Made Nathan’s More Famous
May 15, 2011
Famous Nathan of Nathan's Famous
submitted by Megan Neilsen
|Hi there Fearless Leader,
Just wanted to let you know that we did buy a package of Nathan's Hotdogs. First
ones we have had to eat. They are good!!!!!!!!! Will put them on our grocery list
Thanks for helping us plan our menu.
|Quiz #488 Results
|Answers to Quiz #488- August 16, 2015
You can find this photo on TinEye.com,
but the quiz will be a lot more fun if you solve the puzzle on your own.
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How Peter Solved the Puzzle
|I didn't recognize the place, never having been there nor, as far as I
remember, having seen a photo, but it seemed to scream Coney
Island. The question including "destroyed" immediately suggested
WTC, especially since my brain was already in the NY area in
association with Coney Island. Looking up "famous frankfurters
since 1916" made the rest dead easy, including the map on
Nathan's web site with all restaurant locations.
|Nathan's Famous Hotdogs
Nathan's Famous History
|Nathan’s Famous was founded by a Polish immigrant, Nathan
Handwerker, and his is truly an authentic “only in America story.” He
started his business in 1916 with a small hot dog stand in Coney
Island, New York. He sold hot dogs that were manufactured based
on a recipe developed by his wife, Ida.
In the over 96 years that have passed since opening day, Nathan’s
has gained worldwide recognition for the unequaled quality and taste
of its product. Today, Nathan’s has gained a reputation for being
among the highest quality hot dogs in the world.
Nathan’s popularity was almost instantaneous, and in its earliest days
had legendary characters such as Al Capone, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy
Durante, and Cary Grant as regular customers. It gained its first
international exposure when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
served Nathan’s Famous hot dogs to the King and Queen of England
in 1939. Later, Roosevelt had Nathan’s hot dogs sent to Yalta when
he met with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Years later, Nelson
Rockefeller, Governor of New York, stated that, “No man can hope
to be elected in his state without being photographed eating a hot dog
at Nathan’s Famous."
Politicians, show-business personalities, and sports celebrities are
often seen and photographed munching Nathan’s dogs, and heard
singing its praises. Barbra Streisand, actually had Nathan’s hot dogs
delivered to London, England for a private party. A trip to Nathan’s
was the focus of a Seinfeld episode created by comedian Jerry
Seinfeld. More recently, the ex-mayor of New York City Rudy
Giuliani declared Nathan’s the “World’s best hot dog.” Shortly after
that, Nathan Handwerker was named to the city’s top 100- joining the
ranks of Joe Namath, Irving Berlin, Andrew Carnegie, Joe DiMaggio
and others. Even Jacqueline Kennedy loved Nathan’s dogs, and
served them at the White House. In his final last will and testament,
actor Walter Mathau requested Nathan’s hot dogs to be served at his
funeral – they were! The point is Nathan’s is not just a hot dog, it has
history and it is Americana!
Last year there were over 435 million Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs
sold! Today, Nathan’s is sold and enjoyed in all 50 States and sold at
over 40,000 food service and retail outlets.
|Nathan's c. 1940
|Nathan's c. 1950
|Nathan's c. 1920
|Nathan's c. 1960
|Nathan's c. 1980
|Nathan's menu today
|But what of Nathan himself? Can we
confirm the story? The census stuff for
him, Ida, and children is
straightforward. What about his arrival?
It seems it was 7 April 1912 on the
Campanello from Rotterdam. That is
what his naturalization says, first page
|Murray Handwerker, who
transformed his father’s
Brooklyn hot dog business,
Nathan’s Famous, into a
celebrated national fast-food
chain, died Saturday at his home
in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He
His son William confirmed his
Nathan’s Famous, at Surf and
Stillwell Avenues in Coney
Island, was opened by Mr.
|attached (via Ancestry). And this gives us Ida, and Murray who
expanded the business. But if I go to the passenger manifests for the
Campanello arr 7/8 April 1912 I cannot find him. He doesn't come up
on the excellent search facility on Steve Morse's One-step, which is
the go-to, but nor do I find him by trawling through all the 100+
|possible corruption of Nathan Handwerker. Perhaps he reinvented
himself. But I know, from previous encounters with the Ellis Island
records, that when someone gets naturalized, the date gets stamped
on the manifest record as part of the authentication process. I don't
have the time or patience to go through again to look for that date
pinned to another name ... :-).
And what does it really matter? What I did find in the New York
|passenger lists was Nathan and Ida
Handwerker, US citizens returning from
Bermuda in 1936. Presumably a
Thanks, as always, for a fun quiz,
|Handwerker’s father and mother in 1916 and soon became an
American legend, its name virtually synonymous with hot dogs.
Mr. Handwerker spent his childhood at Nathan’s Famous. “I was
raised behind the counter of the Coney store,” he told The New York
Times in 1986. “My playpen was a 3-by-3 crate the hot dog rolls
used to come in.”
His father, Nathan, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, and his mother,
Ida, had opened the stand with $300 borrowed from the entertainers
Jimmy Durante and Eddie Cantor, friends of his father’s who had yet
to become stars. Nathan’s sold all-beef hot dogs at a nickel, half of
what its Coney Island competitor was charging.
“We were the original fast-food operation,” Mr. Handwerker recalled
in an oral history, “It Happened in Brooklyn,” by Myrna Katz
Frommer and Harvey Frommer, rereleased in 2009 by SUNY Press.
“We called it finger food; you didn’t need a knife and fork. But it was
always quality. My father insisted on that.”
It was Murray Handwerker who turned the family business from a
famous hot dog stand to a famous national chain, which went public
in 1968. After returning from World War II Army service, Mr.
Handwerker joined Nathan’s Famous in 1946 and, his son William
said, “had many ideas of expanding.”
In “It Happened in Brooklyn,” Mr. Handwerker recalled returning
home with other soldiers in the 1940s and wanting to add other foods
to the Nathan’s Famous menu.
“I realized the American soldier had been exposed to French food, his
tastes had become more sophisticated,” he said. Despite his father’s
objections, Mr. Handwerker successfully introduced shrimp and
clams to Nathan’s menu. He later added a delicatessen line.
There were other disagreements with his father, including one over
whether to let restaurant managers have days off during the summer.
At the time, Murray Handwerker said, the managers were working
seven days a week, and he insisted they be given a day off. The first
week, they all got terrible sunburns and could not come into work the
next day. “My father gave me hell,” he recalled in “It Happened in
Mr. Handwerker was born in Brooklyn on July 25, 1921, and
graduated from New York University in 1947 with a degree in
French. “I loved languages,” he told The Times in 1986, “but the only
time I used French was during the old World’s Fair when a lot of
French people came to Coney Island for hot dogs.”
By the mid-1960s Nathan’s had three restaurants, and Mr.
Handwerker, who became president of the company in 1968,
oversaw its expansion over the next decade by adding dozens of
company-owned restaurants and franchised units. He also published a
cookbook featuring Nathan’s Famous recipes. He became chairman
By the early 1980s, Nathan’s was struggling. Its stock, which had
reached $42 in 1971, had fallen to $1 by 1981. Mr. Handwerker was
forced to close some of the restaurants and abandon the idea of a
franchise that would offer a more limited menu. “Nathan’s forte is
supposed to be variety,” he said at the time. The company also ran
into trouble with some of its franchisees.
The business survived, however, as Mr. Handwerker continued to
emphasize its main menu item. “The hot dog,” his son said, “was the
Mr. Handwerker ran the business until the family sold its stake to the
Equicor Group, a private investment company, in 1987. He then
retired to Florida.
Mr. Handwerker’s wife, Dorothy, died in 2009. He is survived by his
sons, Steven, Kenneth and William; his brother, Sol; and several
At the company’s 70th-anniversary celebration near the Times Square
Nathan’s in 1986, Mr. Handwerker was being given a hard time by
Mayor Edward I. Koch, who complained about the demise of the five-
cent hot dog. Grabbing the microphone, Mr. Handwerker explained to
the crowd that the five-cent frankfurter went out with the five-cent
Correction: May 20, 2011
An obituary on Monday about Murray Handwerker, the former
chairman of the Nathan’s Famous hot dog chain, misidentified the
company whose hot dogs President Franklin Delano Roosevelt served
to the king and queen of England when they visited the United States
in 1939. They came from Swift & Company, not from Nathan’s.