By far the best part of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is the work of George Shea, who introduces each of the participants in truly amazing fashion. Shea joked Saturday that one eater “broke up with his girlfriend and euthanized his dog, so he’d have a void inside that he could fill with hot dogs,” and that wasn’t even the most ridiculous thing he said. Joey Chestnut, who lost by two hot dogs to Matt Stonie, received a hero’s welcome.
“In a world of nothing, of barren hills and cracked earth and once-proud oceans drained to sand, there will still be a monument to our existence. Bleached by the sun, perhaps, and blunted by time, but everlasting. Because this man represents all that is eternal in the human experience…. Through the curtain of the aurora, a comet blazed to herald his arrival, and his victories shall be transcribed into every language known to history, including Klingon. I give you America itself, Joey Chestnut.”
Joey Chestnut, Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, Sports
According to Nathan’s Famous lore, the first Fourth of July hot-dog-eating contest took place the very year the hot dog stand on New York’s Coney Island opened in 1916. The story goes that it began when four immigrants were trying to determine who was the most patriotic by scarfing the dogs. But there’s no proof that there was an organized contest until the 1970s– as the press agent Mortimer Matz told the New York Times and Nathan’s then acknowledged. So our tally of how many hot dogs it took to win the contest begins in 1972, when Nathan’s started keeping records. That year’s winner, Jason Schechter, ate 14 wieners—a number that’s puny by today’s standards. Current record-holder Joey Chestnut won his title by noshing a whopping 69 in 2013.
For your awe-filled—or vomit-tinged—enjoyment, scroll down to see how many frankfurters have been consumed by the winners of every Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest between 1972 and 2014. As for why the thing is at Nathan’s at all, here’s how TIME explained the importance of Nathan Handwerker’s beachside joint in 1960: