The History of McDonald's: How the Golden Arches Became the Behemoth it is Today

Ever wondered where McDonalds came from? Stick around and find out

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Every success story has one thing in common—a dream and some pretty motivated people to make their ultimate dream come true. We now know McDonald's as one of the biggest entities in the world—the largest restaurant chain in the world by revenue, but before the Golden Arches was all of that (and more), it was a simple barbecue drive thru ran by two young men who had no idea exactly what that little barbecue drive thru would eventually transform into. If you haven't already heard, McDonald's has a new “As Featured In” meal being offered at the moment, alongside a new partnership with renowned London streetwear brand PALACE, which has produced some neat merchandise to celebrate.

Similar to what we did with Pepsi earlier this year, we figured now would be a good time to dive in the history of McDonalds and how the Golden Arches became the behemoth it is today. Look, listen, and learn people—because the story is an interesting one.

RELATED: The 20 Best Pepsi Flavors Ranked from Worst to Best

Who founded McDonald's?

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In order to answer this question, we have to go into the background of the McDonald family. The McDonald's already had restaurant ownership in their bloodline as Patrick McDonald, the head of the household, had previously owned a food stand called The Airdrome on Huntington Drive. No doubt this was where his sons, Richard and Maurice McDonald, drew their inspiration of operating a restaurant from, and in 1940, they opened their first "non-official" but still technically official McDonald's in San Bernardino.

In addition to the things they had learned from their father by proxy, the pair had also had their own experience with running a hot dog stand, both of which wound up proving helpful for what would come next. Originally called "McDonald's Famous Barbecue," all of the restaurant's food items at that particular time were geared towards standard barbecue food. After several years, however, the two realized something that would forever alter the course of their restaurant.

When was McDonald's founded?

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What was that realization you ask? That hamburgers were the biggest selling item on the menu. In 1948, a rebrand happened as the brothers converted their carhop barbecue drive into a restaurant who's major focus was burger and milkshakes, along with other items such as potato chips, fries, and apple pies. Now a burger and shake joint in the 1940s isn't exactly what separated McDonald's apart from their competitors as there were dozens upon dozens of those around. What did separate McDonalds from the pack, however, were their prices being much cheaper than other restaurants, and their dismissal of using what was then the standard of employing waiters and waitresses.

During the early 1950s, the McDonald's brothers decided it was time to take their restaurant to a new level by moving into a new building. For the brothers, it wasn't just a matter of needing more space, this new building was going to mark a new era for the company with a brand new design. Working with architect Stanley Clark Meston, it was during this phase where the Golden Arches would come to fruition. In the process of working through the kinks of the technical design elements that would make McDonald's, well, McDonald's, the brothers began the process of turning their local restaurant into a franchise.

The first was a stand at Central Avenue and Indian School Road in Phoenix, Arizona. The second was a 10207 Lakewood Boulevard in Downey, California location, which remains the oldest surviving McDonald's restaurant as of this writing.

Enter Ray Kroc.

How Ray Kroc took McDonald's to new heights.

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Marketing is one of the biggest things you can do to ensure brand success, and businessman/entrepreneur Ray Kroc, a milkshake mixer salesman, became a part of the McDonald's team when he realized that his milkshake machines were being used in several McDonald's locations. After a little convincing, Kroc began his plan of developing franchises on a national level forming the McDonald's corporation in 1955, and ended 1956 with one of the most important and shrew financial decisions to date—making sure he would own the real estate of the future franchises. Smart. Very smart.

In addition to his financial decisions, Kroc is the one responsible for early mass marketing machine behind McDonald's, and the reason why the franchise is the heavyweight it remains today. The McDonald's brothers (whom Kroc bought out in 1961) created the blueprint, and Kroc took that blueprint and put his mastermind business spin on it.

Who created Ronald McDonald?

When did the Happy Meal first appear?

The Timeline of McDonald's History:

Let's roundup the key events of McDonald's history to bring it all home.

  • 1938 - Richard and Maurice McDonald develop and are in the midst of their hotdog stand, which was their first foray into restaurant and food.
  • 1940 - The McDonald's Brothers officially open their carhop drive-in barbecue restaurant named "McDonald's Famous Barbecue."
  • 1948 - The brothers realize hamburgers are their bestsellers, and make the decision to transform their restaurant into a burger and shake joint.
  • Early 1950s - Richard and Maurice move McDonald's into a bigger restaurant, and begin working with architect Stanley Clark Meston on the design concepts. During this time, Meston designs the iconic Golden Arches.
  • 1953 - The first franchise, a stand on Central Avenue and Indian School Road in Phoenix, Arizona opens.
  • 1954 - Ray Kroc realizes his milkshake machines are being used in McDonald's locations, and meets with the McDonald's Brothers to see how the concept can further be expanded.
  • 1955- Kroc opens his very first franchise in in Des Plaines, Illinois.
  • 1959 - McDonald's surpasses more than 100 restaurants being opened.
  • 1961 - Kroc officially buys out the McDonald's brothers
  • 1962 - The Golden Arches logo gets introduced
  • 1963 - Ronald McDonald gets introduced after MCD's partnership with Bozo the Clown ends.
  • 1973 - Breakfast items begin to appear on the menu
  • 1974- The first Ronald McDonald House opens
  • 1979 - The Happy Meal begins appearing on the menu
  • 1983 - Chicken McNuggets are introduced on the menu
  • Mid-1990s - The popularity of McDonald's surges to new heights
  • 2000 - McDonald's surpasses the 11,000 restaurant mark globally
  • 2018 - McDonald's announces that it has stopped the usage of preservatives in most of their burgers.

That, our friends, is the history of McDonald's in a nutshell.

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