Thursday, July 3, 2014

Wienermobile history for the Fourth of July

The Wienermobile. Just the name strikes fear in those that hear it. This 14,000-lb leviathan prowls the highways, back roads, and supermarket parking lots searching for innocent victims to torture with tiny Wienerwhistles.

Actually, it might be the parents of those who receive the Wienerwhistles who are tortured.

At any rate, the Wienermobile is easily the most recognized promotional vehicle ever hit America's highways. And since it's the Fourth of July, a holiday that revolves around the consumption of hot dogs, I thought it would be a good idea to look back at the history of this iconic rolling billboard. 

Conceived in 1936 by Carl Mayer (nephew of company founder Oscar), the Wienermobile was initially meant to promote Oscar Mayer's "German-style" wieners around the Chicago area. General Body Company of Chicago developed the first bodies, and they toured the Windy City until World War II.

The Wienermobile came back in 1952, when Gerstenslager of Wooster, Ohio, designed a fleet of five. These were quite a bit bigger than the originals, and built on Dodge truck chassis.

The '52 Wienermobile is probably the most famous of the lot. For one thing, there is one on permanent display at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit. And even though the Rosa Parks bus, Abe Lincoln’s death chair, and Kennedy's infamous parade Lincoln are all on display, the museum claims that the Wienermobile is one of their most popular attractions.

A Brooks Stevens-designed, Jeep-based Wienermobile in 1958, a larger version in ’69, and a GMC motorhome-based Wienermobile in 1976 put an end to the program for a few years.

The program returned in 1988 with an all-new Wienermobile, and it was replaced and upgraded in 1995, 1996, 2000, and the current version in 2004.

Today’s Wienermobile is actually a pretty heavy-duty vehicle. Built on a General Motors W-Series truck chassis (these are the Isuzu-sourced medium-duty trucks that are usually used for large box trucks and other specialty rigs), these are 27-feet long and weigh more than 14,000-lbs.

Wienermobiles are usually operated by “Hotdoggers.” Typically these are recent college graduates gaining some promotional experience with a highly visible (figuratively and literally) display.

The Wienermobile has spawned several small-scale versions of itself over the years. Of course, most people are familiar with the Wienerwhistles, which are typically given out during one of the big rig’s many promotional appearances. There is also a Hot Wheels version out there. No word on how fast it makes it down the orange track.

My favorite was the 1/25th-scale promotional model that came out in 1954. It had a friction motor similar to other promo cars of the day, and was sold in toy stores around Chicago, Ill., and Madison, Wis. They had a little “Bobbing Oscar” that would pop in and out of the top. Later versions of this model had a coin bank slot where Oscar used to pop out.

The most current member of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile stable is a smaller version (cocktail weenie?) that was built from a 2008 Mini Cooper. It might not cast as imposing of a shadow as its big brother, but it has to be easier for the Hotdogger to operate.

I would like to thank Noelle Overly with Oscar Mayer for providing me with several of the photos and Wienermobile facts for this article. I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten this much information this easily for a story before.

Take a look through the slideshow below for an historic trip through Wienermobile history, or click this link for a nicer versionHappy Fourth of July!


  1. What a cool truck and a tasty tidbit of history. I can just imagine seeing that come down a local road.

  2. I have the Hot Wheels car. It’s too tall to fit in a charger, but if memory serves, it can make it through a gravity loop if you give it a good push.