Rocky Mountain Trucking LLC

No, you don’t need a CDL to drive the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

But right now, the Kraft Heinz Co. is hosting its annual campaign to find its next 12 drivers. The effort looks for talented public relations managers who can handle the famous vehicle, which debuted in 1936, to help create content for the brand.

Although you don’t need to be a truck driver or hold a CDL to get behind the wheel of the Wienermobile, its unique build — 24 feet long and 11 feet tall — requires some skill in the seat.

Oscar Mayer, a subsidiary of Kraft Heinz, says Carl Mayer, the nephew of the brand’s namesake founder, developed the idea for the Wienermobile 87 years ago and brought it to his uncle. The original concept called for a 13-foot metal hot dog on wheels that would transport the company spokesperson for extra publicity. Always interested in originality, the founder set the marketing vision in motion.

The company hired Chicago manufacturer General Body Co. to design the first Wienermobile. It featured an open cockpit and advertised “U.S. Government Inspected Oscar Mayer’s German Wieners,” with the subtitle “Look for the Yellow Label.”

The original Oscar Mayer Wienermobile debuted in 1936. (Photo: Oscar Mayer)

Oscar Mayer, originally a German immigrant, began working as a butcher’s helper in 1873 before moving on to meatpacking. In 1883, Mayer opened his first shop and continued to expand, eventually adding the iconic yellow stripe to the company logo in 1929. That stripe proved to be iconic for the brand, so it was imperative to include it on the Wienermobile’s paint job.

For the first few years of its life, the Wienermobile traveled through the streets of Chicago touting those German hotdogs. Eventually, its travels encompassed the Midwest and East. In 1940, a glass enclosure was added to the vehicle cockpit for protection.

There have been many iterations of the famous Wienermobile since its inception. (Photo: Oscar Mayer)

Unfortunately, President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 imposed gas rations on the country during World War II, leaving the Wienermobile parked for almost a decade. The company also pivoted to canning meats for U.S. soldiers overseas rather than hotdogs for consumers at home.

But in 1952, the Wienermobile was back — only this time it wasn’t just one.

Oscar Mayer commissioned body manufacturer Gerstenslager to create five new Wienermobiles, extending the iconic vehicle to 22 feet long. Instead of the open cockpit, the new design featured an entire windshield where the driver operated that sat atop a Dodge chassis. In addition, the design included a sunroof and sound system for the first time.

From there, numerous iterations of the hotdog on wheels came and went, including a futuristic, bubble-nosed design in 1958 created by Brooks Stevens, the designer of the first Miller beer logo. In 1969, another new era included Ford Thunderbird tail lights meant to resemble a classic hot rod.

Video killed the Wienermobile

After its last design change in 1976, Oscar Mayer retired the Wienermobile in ’77 to focus more on TV advertising. Thankfully, that didn’t last long when it was brought out again in ’86 for a 50th birthday celebration, appeasing fans everywhere. By this time, the Wienermobile had evolved into a symbol of Americana.

The fanfare and excitement prompted the brand to bring back the campaign in full force — even touring some countries overseas — by 1988. Now at 23 feet long, six Wienermobiles took to the streets, featuring microwaves, refrigerators and car phones. The enhanced stereo system continuously broadcasted 21 versions of the Oscar Mayer wiener jingle.

Numerous new campaigns have continued to celebrate the Oscar Mayer wiener. That includes the Wienermobile driver selection contests and a 2021 marketing stunt that surprised numerous Lyft XL customers with a rideshare in the mobile hotdog.

Throughout the years, it even made a few stops at military bases and an Air Show.

Although video once killed the Wienermobile, social media will surely keep its resurrection going since its uniqueness bodes well for generating “likes” on heavy visual platforms like Instagram.

You can find some of the historic Wienermobile designs on display in numerous places throughout the U.S., such as the 1952 post-WWII design located at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan.

FreightWaves Classics articles look at various aspects of the transportation industry’s history. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter!

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