Madison may be the headquarters for Oscar Mayer, but it isn’t often that residents can catch a glimpse of the company’s iconic Wienermobile.
That’s no longer the case.
A classic Wienermobile, circa 1988, was permanently installed Monday alongside the eight-story headquarters for Oscar Mayer and its parent company, Kraft Foods Group, on display for the public to see and photograph.
“This was a real-live vehicle that toured in 1988,” said Ed Roland, mobile marketing manager. With more than 250,000 miles on it, the distinctive orange-and-yellow Wienermobile was restored at Truckstar Collision Center in Deerfield.
The 1988 fleet of six 23-foot-long, fiberglass hot dogs on wheels traveled to all 50 states plus Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, Singapore and Guam, Roland said.
They were equipped with refrigerators, cellphones, and stereo systems that played 21 versions of the Oscar Mayer Wiener jingle.
They also had microwave ovens that vented through small holes in the “bun.” When hot dogs were cooked in the microwaves, the scent would waft through the streets as the Wienermobile rolled by, Roland said.
Oscar Mayer’s roots date to 1883; the company opened in Madison in 1919, 95 years ago, and the first Wienermobile debuted in 1936 when UW-Madison graduate Carl Mayer, nephew of the company’s founder, Oscar F. Mayer, suggested using a 13-foot metal hot dog on wheels to transport the company spokesman around Chicago.
Since then — other than during World War II when gas was rationed, and a period from 1977 to 1986 when the company mothballed the vehicles and focused on TV ads — the Wienermobile has carried the Oscar Mayer mantra far and wide.
There have been 13 models. A 1952 version is featured at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The current model is 27 feet long, decked out with a flat-screen TV, LED taillights, and solar panels on the roof.
Retired Oscar Mayer employee Dave Laufenberg was riding past on his bicycle right after the vehicle was set in place.
“It’s very nice to see this one restored,” he said. “It’s part of the company tradition. Kids just light up when they see the Wienermobile.”
Laufenberg said he remembered when the vehicles were built in Madison, in the plant’s mechanical assembly building. In one version of the Wienermobile, the bun was made of steel. When the design changed, the mold had to be destroyed, Laufenberg said. “It was very, very difficult” to demolish a piece of the company’s history, he said.
Each year, 12 college graduates, chosen from UW-Madison and several other universities, are hired as Hotdoggers, driving the six Wienermobiles around the country to promotional events. More than 1,000 students apply for those jobs, spreading cheer, Roland said.
“How can you not smile when you see a 27-foot-long hot dog on wheels?” he said.