Food: Wurst for Wares

I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener. That is what I'd truly like to be. 'Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener, Everyone would be in love with me.

Musically accompanied by 101 pieces of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, that jingle is now appearing on U.S. television. It is making a pitch for an old, redolent, profitable—and fascinating—company.

In the 1880s, in the back room of their neighborhood meat market on Chicago's North Side, the Bavarian Mayer brothers—Oscar, Gottfried and Max—worked hard stuffing sausages. Oscar's wife Louise helped, and their son Oscar G. stood on a butter tub...