Episode 29 (formerly 1705): McDonald’s

I bet you don’t know anyone who hasn’t heard of McDonald’s fast-food restaurant. Today, there are over 36,000 locations in more than 100 countries worldwide. Of course, the giant American fast-food chain didn’t start out that large.

The very first McDonald’s was founded by two brothers from New Hampshire. Richard and Maurice (Dick and Mac) McDonald traveled to California in the 1930s during the Great Depression. They hoped to become successful movie producers, but that plan failed. In 1940 they opened a small restaurant in the town of San Bernardino, California. At first they sold barbecue, but later they realized they could make more money by selling just a few simple items.

Eventually they changed the menu to only hamburgers, French fries and drinks. They also invented a new concept of fast food: a small menu, efficient preparation procedures, self-service and disposable, paper serving items. With this formula, which was inspired by Henry Ford’s assembly-line idea, their restaurant became very successful.

In 1954, a milkshake-machine salesman named Ray Kroc visited the McDonald’s restaurant and was immediately impressed by the efficiency and success of the brothers’ business model. He bought the rights to build the first McDonald’s franchise, which opened in 1955 near Chicago, Illinois.

It is well known that Kroc and the McDonald brothers didn’t get along very well. The Founder, a Hollywood film released in 2016, portrays the difficult relationship between them. It depends on who you ask as to whether there were any underhanded business dealings during their relationship. But, they eventually ended their partnership after many years of disagreements about how the company should be run. Ray Kroc bought the entire company from the brothers in 1961 for $2.7 million. Kroc would continue to devote his entire life to making McDonald’s a success until his death in 1984.

Nowadays, McDonald’s corporate headquarters is in Oak Brook, IL, near Chicago. The company continues to emphasize the trademark “golden arches” architecture of their buildings, the standardized menu and procedures and an assurance that McDonald’s restaurants worldwide will give the customer the same experience no matter where it is located. Although many other fast-food restaurants use the same kind of business model today, McDonald’s was the first chain to become successful doing so.

Some fun facts about McDonald’s:

  • A hamburger at the original McDonald’s in the 1940s cost 15 cents.
  • The original McDonald’s restaurant building was torn down in 1970.
  • The first McDonald’s drive-thru was constructed in 1975.
  • Over 80% of McDonald’s are owned and operated by franchisees, or independent local business people. All franchisees must follow the same rules for serving customers.
  • The Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish and Egg McMuffin sandwiches were all created by franchisees.
  • Ronald McDonald, the mascot clown of the company, first appeared in 1963.
  • Well-known radio personality and TV weatherman Willard Scott played Ronald McDonald in the character’s first appearances.
  • The Ronald McDonald House Charities is a non-profit organization related to McDonald’s that gives families a place to stay, free of charge, when they have a child in a nearby hospital.
  • The training center for franchisees is called Hamburger University.

So, the next time you settle down with your McDonald’s burger and fries, remember that there is a colorful history behind your meal.