- McDonald’s is one of the most recognisable and profitable brands in the US and across the globe.
- However, much has changed since milkshake machine salesman Ray Kroc opened the first McDonald’s franchise in 1955.
- Everything from the restaurant design to the packaging and menu once looked totally different.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories .
What was life like before we ever uttered the words “Big Mac” or “supersize it”?
McDonald’s, the largest fast-food chain in the world, has been around for over 60 years. During that time, much has changed at the restaurant.
What started out as a small barbecue shack serving 15-cent burgers has now become a global empire making billions of dollars each year. Everything from the packaging to the menu has evolved over the years, and the differences between McDonald’s restaurants years ago and today may surprise you.
Here’s how McDonald’s has changed since its beginnings in the 1940s.
In 1954, future McDonald’s Corporation founder Ray Kroc, a Multimixer milkshake machine salesman, came across a small burger joint run by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald.
The small restaurant, which first opened in 1940, had a very simple menu – just burgers, french fries, and beverages like “Triple Thick Milkshakes” – allowing the brothers to focus on quality.
In 1948, the McDonald brothers lowered the cost of their burgers to just 15 cents, roughly half the price of local competitors. Due to the self-service counter, there was no need for waiters or waitresses. Burgers were cooked ahead of time, wrapped in paper, and kept warm under a heat lamp, which meant customers received their food in record time.
Amazed by the efficiency of the restaurant, Kroc wanted in. He became the first McDonald’s franchisee agent.
Since those early days, leadership has changed multiple times and more recently, the company’s ousted CEO Steve Easterbrook has been scrutinised.
According to a previous report by Business Insider, a Wall Street Journal article claimed that McDonald’s tolerated partying and inappropriate conduct between senior managers and employees at the company’s headquarters under the leadership of Easterbrook and former Chief People Officer David Fairhurst.
Easterbrook was then forced to step down as CEO after it was revealed he was involved in a relationship with an employee.
McDonald’s declined to comment on the Wall Street Journal story to Business Insider.
Easterbrook was replaced by Chris Kempczinski in November 2019, and he has since attempted to rehabilitate the McDonald’s image with his new Instagram account.
The very first McDonald’s franchise location proved successful.
In 1955, Kroc founded McDonald’s System, Inc., which would inevitably become the McDonald’s Corporation we know today. By 1958, McDonald’s had sold 100 million burgers.
In 1961, Kroc bought the McDonald brothers out for $US2.7 million. He now owned the exclusive brand name rights and operation of all McDonald’s locations.
Today, McDonald’s has reportedly sold hundreds of billions of burgers during its years in operation.
In 2018, McDonald’s total revenue came to $US21.03 billion, according to Statista.
Over the years, McDonald’s sales have slightly diminished from its peak in 2013 ($US28.11 billion) as the fast-food market becomes increasingly saturated.
By the end of the 1960s, there were roughly 1,000 McDonald’s locations across the US.
The first international franchise location opened in 1967 in British Columbia. Later that year, another opened in Costa Rica.
According to the McDonald’s website, the company now operates a total of 36,525 restaurants worldwide.
The first McDonald’s restaurants looked drastically different than most locations today.
The McDonald brothers wanted the design of their franchised restaurants to be eye-catching and highlight their “Speedee Service System,” a predecessor of the drive-through model and fast food as a whole.
Architect Stanley Meson designed a red-and-white exterior that appealed to the brothers. However, Dick McDonald felt that the roof looked too flat, and added the now-famous yellow “golden arches.”
The oldest operating restaurant still featuring the original red-and-white design is located in Downey, California.
Now, McDonald’s locations are more modern and use red and yellow as their main design colours.
The roof no longer features golden arches. Instead, some locations feature a yellow accent piece on otherwise modern buildings.
The first logo was modelled after the original roof design of McDonald’s restaurants, but still emphasised the letter “M.”
The original design featured red, yellow, and blue.
Today, the McDonald’s logo is much simpler.
However, the golden arches still represent the McDonald’s brand.
The original signs featured McDonald’s first mascot, Speedee.
Speedee, a chef with a hamburger for a head, appeared on the signs alongside the brand’s original logo of two interlocking golden arches.
Some signs also advertised the low price of McDonald’s hamburgers – just 15 cents.
Now, McDonald’s road signs are more simple and feature the modern version of the golden arches.
Many McDonald’s signs are designed to be tall so that they can be seen from far away.
The McDonald’s mascot we know today is Ronald McDonald. This is what he looked like in 1974.
Ronald McDonald was first introduced in 1963 during a Washington, DC-marketed advertisement for the restaurant. In the ad, Ronald McDonald pulled hamburgers out of his belt and had a McDonald’s cup for a nose. His hat was a tray with a styrofoam hamburger, fries, and a milkshake on top of it.
McDonald’s considered changing the character of Ronald McDonald to a cowboy or spaceman, but those ideas were quickly thrown out.
In TV commercials, Ronald McDonald was often accompanied by other characters like Mayor McCheese, the Hamburglar, Grimace, Birdie the Early Bird, and The Fry Kids.
His signature costume included a red-and-white striped shirt, yellow jumpsuit, and red hair.
Ronald McDonald also became the primary symbol for the Ronald McDonald House, an organisation founded by McDonald’s in 1979 that provides housing for parents of a child with cancer near to the hospital, as well as medical care.
In 2010, Ronald McDonald received criticism amidst the rise of childhood obesity in the US.
The Corporate Accountability International in Boston, Massachusetts wanted the clown to be retired. However, former McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner said the chain had no plans to remove Ronald McDonald from its advertising. In regards to Ronald McDonald promoting unhealthy eating habits in children, Skinner claimed, “this is about choice.”
In 2014, McDonald’s announced that the brand would be revamping Ronald’s look. He would now wear a red and white striped rugby shirt, yellow cargo pants, and a vest or jacket instead of the signature jumpsuit.
Despite Ronald McDonald being featured less frequently in McDonald’s advertising nowadays, the chain has yet to officially retire the character.
In days past, McDonald’s employees in hats would take your order at the counter.
McDonald’s made money off its speedy service model.
At the original McDonald’s Bar-B-Q restaurant in San Bernardino, California, customers could pull up to the restaurant for carhop service. Future locations would switch to the walk-up model.
In 1975, a franchisee in Arizona had an ingenious idea to introduce the drive-through window to his location after seeing competitors utilise it. Customers could now pull up and receive their food from their cars.
Today, McDonald’s is still trying to innovate ways to make the ordering process more efficient.
In 2018, Forbes reported that by 2020, self-service kiosks would be available in all US McDonald’s locations. Some, like retired president and CEO of McDonald’s USA Ed Rensi, argue this is a result of increasing minimum wages across the country. McDonald’s said it still has cashiers, but that the company found people take more time to browse and sometimes order more when using the machine.
Perhaps the biggest change in the McDonald’s brand since its debut in 1948 is the menu.
The very first McDonald’s menu was large. However, in 1948, the McDonald brothers reduced the restaurant’s offerings down to just nine items: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, soft drinks, milk, coffee, potato chips, and a slice of pie.
In 1949, potato chips were swapped with french fries and McDonald’s began selling milkshakes.
Needless to say, the menu has drastically expanded since then.
In 2013, McDonald’s had a whopping 145 items on its menu, with more being added consistently. Around the world, McDonald’s visitors can try a variety of exclusive menu items not available in the US, like a chicken sandwich topped with mozzarella sticks in South Korea.
The first new item to be added to the national menu was the Filet-O-Fish sandwich in 1965. Three years later, the Big Mac was released nationwide.
Created by owner and operator Jim Delligatti of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1967, the first “Big Mac” featured a triple-decker burger and sold for 45 cents.
When the burger was chosen to roll out across the US, there was a lot of deliberation over the name. Two other name options included the Aristocrat and the Blue Ribbon Burger, but both were nixed.
However, Esther Glickstein Rose, a 21-year-old secretary for the company’s advertising department in 1967, had the winning name – “Big Mac.” According to the AP, executives and other employees at the time laughed at the name. However, it stuck and went on to become “one of the best-known product names of all time.”
Happy Meals came out in 1979 while Chicken McNuggets were released in 1983.
Today, an estimated 900 million Big Macs are sold each year around the world.
Little has changed about the burger’s appearance since its debut. However, McDonald’s announced on October 1, 2018, that it would remove all artificial preservatives, flavours, and colouring from the Big Mac.
In 1972, Herb Peterson of Santa Barbara, California, pitched his latest creation to McDonald’s owner Ray Croc — it was what we now know as the Egg McMuffin.
Kroc later told the story of how the Egg McMuffin came to be in his 1977 autobiography, “Grinding it Out: The Making of McDonald’s.”
“He didn’t want me to reject it out of hand, which I might have done, because it was a crazy idea – a breakfast sandwich,” Kroc wrote. “It consisted of an egg that had been formed in a Teflon circle, with the yolk broken, and was dressed with a slice of cheese and a slice of grilled Canadian bacon. This was served open-faced on a toasted and buttered English muffin. I boggled a bit at the presentation. But then I tasted it, and I was sold.”
According to Time, Patty Turner, the wife of a McDonald’s executive, came up with the name “Egg McMuffin.” By 1975, the Egg McMuffin was being sold nationwide for the low price of 63 cents.
By 1981, breakfast accounted for 18% of all McDonald’s sales,Time reported.
Today, you can get your McDonald’s Egg McMuffin — and many other breakfast items — any time of day.
In 1993, McDonald’s opened the first McCafé in Melbourne, Australia. In 2015, the company expanded its breakfast menu to be all day. McDonald’s just released two new chicken-based breakfast sandwiches nationwide in an effort to compete with rival restaurants Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s, and Popeyes.
McDonald’s introduced the “Supersize” option in April 1992.
Supersize fries came in a 7-ounce carton, versus the 6-ounce carton of the “large” fries size. In 2004, McDonald’s announced it would be phasing out its supersized options in what spokesman Walt Riker described as a move towards “menu simplification.”
Many, however, believed the action to be a result of the 2004 documentary film, “Supersize Me,” in which filmmaker Morgan Spurlock ate McDonald’s food every day for a month and documented his deteriorating health.
Riker said at the time that the decision had “nothing to do with that (film) whatsoever.”
Plant-based menu options are currently soaring in popularity, and McDonald’s is poised to release its own Beyond Meat burger nationwide.
Though the burger has yet to roll out nationwide, Business Insider had the opportunity to try the new menu item, which comes off the heels of the successful Impossible Whopper sold at Burger King.
There’s a huge opportunity in the fast-food industry for vegan and vegetarian menu items. According to a previous article by Business Insider, the addition of the Impossible Whopper showed to boost sales at Burger King, something analysts believe McDonald’s may be trying to replicate in its own restaurants.
McDonald’s has also changed its packaging multiple times over the last 60-plus years.
Earlier iterations of the McDonald’s packaging featured Speedee. The company then switched to white bags with the original “golden arches” logo. In 1968, McDonald’s began using styrofoam packaging. This would last into the 1980s, after which McDonald’s agreed it would switch to a more eco-conscious packaging for its sandwiches.
However, McDonald’s would continue to use some styrofoam products until 2018.
Brown bags were launched in 1990 and are still used today.
Since the ’90s, McDonald’s bag designs have changed multiple times. Some featured fun illustrations, pictures of fruits and vegetables, or appeared in a classic red-and-white design. Today, McDonald’s brown bags are much more simple.
From its founding in 1954 until now, McDonald’s has remained an American institution and its golden arches an instantly recognisable symbol.
In the 1990s, McDonald’s grew so quickly that some spread a rumour that a new McDonald’s opened somewhere in the world every five hours.
The introduction of McDonald’s PlayPlaces in the late 1980s made the restaurant an attraction for families to not just stop by, but actually spend time in and hold parties there.
Today, McDonald’s is the biggest fast-food chain in the world with more than 37,000 locations in more than 115 countries.
According to a survey conducted by Statista, roughly 60% of US respondents said they had visited a McDonald’s within three months in 2018, showing that despite a move towards healthy living and increasing fast-food variety, McDonald’s is still one of America’s most beloved chains.
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