November 26, 2020

A brief history of McDonald’s

McDonald’s is a household name around the world. Today there are 36,000 McDonald’s restaurants and there are very few people who have never had a BigMac. 2020 marks the 65th year that McDonald’s and although it has had some tough times, it continues to be one of the biggest businesses in the world. It has come a long way from its simple beginnings.

If you have seen the movie ‘The Founder’ then you may already be aware of how McDonald’s started and how Ray Kroc took a simple business and made it a worldwide success. While that movie portrays a lot of poor ethical decisions and backstabbing, it is pretty accurate. 

The first McDonald’s restaurant was opened in 1948 by two brothers, Dick and Maurice McDonald. Their restaurant was unique because it relied on something called the “Speedee Service System”. The idea behind the system was that food could be produced as quickly and efficiently as possible without sacrificing quality. At that time there was no such thing as ‘Fast Food’ and so the speedy service system stood out for its fast service and great taste. McDonald’s essentially invented fast food.

However, Dick and Mac owned one small restaurant and if it had remained only their business we would likely never have heard of McDonald’s. Instead a traveling businessman named Ray Kroc stopped in for a burger one day and quickly realized they were sitting on a fortune. He persuaded them to allow him to open a franchise of the restaurant and from there he opened the McDonald’s company. He started to open franchises around the country in the McDonald’s name. In a clever move, he purchased the real estate that these restaurants were built on which allowed him to make large capital gains while the two brothers were still only earning small royalties. In the end, he got rid of the brothers from the business and took the McDonald’s chain to global success.

Looking back at the picture of the first restaurant and early menus it is clear to see how far McDonald’s has come. While they once offered a simple menu of burgers, fries, and milkshakes, today you can order salads, fruit and other meals as the McDonald’s chain strives to keep up with modern demands. Still a menu from the 1970s shows that the BigMac, apple pie, and fillet-o-fish have been institutions for a long time.

The original McDonald’s restaurant featured red and white paint with two golden arches on either side of the building. They, of course, stood for the M in McDonald’s but also distinguished the restaurant from others in the area. When you saw the golden arches you knew you were at McDonald’s. Over time the golden arches made way for a more modern design. Today McDonald’s is more known for a Mansard Roof and free Wifi but back then it was the golden arches that caused people to queue for miles.

The first drive-through McDonald’s opened in 1975. It was opened because the restaurant was close to a military base and soldiers were not allowed to leave their cars while dressed in military gear, McDonald’s came up with the perfect solution. While McDonald’s does fast food well it is not the fastest when it comes to a drive-through. That title goes to Wendys.

While McDonald’s is often seen as the perfect picture of evil and capitalism it does do some good. Ronald McDonald House is a large charity that does fantastic work for children. It has helped nearly 9 million children to date.

Today the golden M is one of the most famous symbols around the world. How long McDonald’s dominates our streets remains to be seen but there is no doubt that it has done so for the last 65 years.