May 15, 2011

Happy 71st birthday, McDonald's restaurants!

Day 135 of Vintage 365


Few logos are more instantly recognizable the world over than the curving golden arches of McDonald's. Though this chain - the largest hamburger restaurant franchise in the world - has had more than its fair share of critics over the decades, there's little skirting around the fact that McDonalds has become as much a part of our culture as sliced bread, colour TV, and ATM machines.

What, you may ask, has me thinking about McDonald's today? Why, it's the fact that on this exact day in 1940, the first McDonald's restaurant opened its doors in San Bernardino, California. Who would have predicted back then that what began as a humble family owned burger joint (started by Mr. Patrick McDonald and his sons Maurice and Richard) at the dawn of one the most turbulent decades in American history (due primarily to WW2) would go on to become one the biggest fast food chains of all time?

Part of the success of McDonald's can likely be tied to the fact that the two McDonald brothers introduced a concept called the "Speedee Service System" in 1948 that would prove to be the forerunner of most modern day fast food restaurants.

Noting that the bulk of their profits were coming from hamburger sales, the brothers decided to close down the carhop element of their restaurants and instead create a streamlined drive-through system that allowed customers to pull up to a menu board and quickly place their order from the convenience of their vehicle.

{Photo of one of the earliest McDonalds restaurants, which was located in Des Plaines, Illionis, taken during the 1950s. Image via The Daily Mail.}

While drive-thrus dot the landscape of North America and many other parts of the world today, in the mid-twentieth century, this concept was new and rather exciting, especially for a population that was, in the post-WW2 boom years, quickly becoming dominated by car owners.

Over the decades many things have changed about McDonalds (from mascots to menu options), however, certain elements like hamburgers, French fries, and those unmistakable golden arches have remained the same.

Nowadays McDonald's locations can be found in 119 countries around the world, which equates to a staggering 58 million customers being served everyday. While (due to needing to follow a very strict diet for medical reasons) I can't say as though I go McDonald's very often these days, like most of us, I certainly have numerous memories that took place at various McDonald's locations over the years.

As a youngster my family didn't eat out (let alone at fast food restaurants) very often. However I distinctly remember that when I was little, McDonalds would sometimes run a special in the summer when you could get a soft serve ice cream cone (vanilla, chocolate or swirl) for just twenty-five cents, and when that annual sale took place, we definitely piled into the AC-less car to grab a much needed frozen treat.

Perhaps it is the fact that McDonald's has been around for seventy one years now that continues to help explain its massive popularity. Low prices (one might argue more so in decades gone by), widely appealing all-American style food, and the reassuring element of knowing exactly what you were getting no matter which location you visited, all worked to cement McDonald's immense popularity and turn into one of the biggest mainstays of modern culture.

Whether you stop by for a Big Mac every week, haven't set foot in in a Mickey D's since Mayor McCheese and the Hamburglar were keeping Ronald company, or simply pop in every now and then, it's fun to take a moment and reflect on your own personal memories of one of the oldest chains of fast food restaurants in the world.

Happy 71st birthday, McDonalds, here's to many more years of burgers and smiling redheaded clowns to come! (Now, about bringing the McRib back on a permanent basis... :D)


  1. Hi, just stumbled upon your blog. Great stuff, all things vintage (especially 50s) interest me as well so I've signed up as a follower. Keeo it up!

  2. Such a fun and interesting post. I enjoyed it immensely!

  3. We had one of those old style McD's in Sherman Texas when I was little. Didn't see another McD's until high school when one came to where I grew up in Enid Okla. Kids today can't imagine a landscape without them! Great post.