We all secretly love a nice McDonald’s every now and then, and it can’t be denied that even though it’s not good for us, it tastes so good.
But where & when did it all start, and what happened for it to become this culinary juggernaut?
That’s what we’re here to find out, looking decade by decade at the highs and lows of the golden arches.
1937: Patrick McDonald opened “The Airdrome,” a food stand on route 66.
1940: “The Airdrome” was moved to San Bernardino, California by Brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald, opening McDonald’s Bar-B-Q restaurant with a 25-item barbeque menu.
1948: With almost all profits coming from burgers, the brothers closed for remodeling, adding their “Speedee Service System,” a streamlined burger line.
It re-opened selling 9 items with burgers at 15 cents. Speedee became the company symbol, a mini animated chef.
1952: The Golden Arches were created by architect Stanley Clark Meston.
The brothers started franchising their chain, with Neil Fox opening the first in Arizona. The third is the oldest McDonald’s still in operation.
1954: Milkshake-mixer salesman Ray Kroc asked the brothers to let him franchise McDonald’s restaurants outside California and Arizona.
He tried to open one at the unopened Disneyland.
1955: Kroc founds “McDonald’s Systems, Inc.” as a legal structure for franchises.
1958: McDonald’s sold its 100 millionth hamburger.
1959: The first Hawaiian McDonald’s and the 100th opened in Wisconsin. McDonald’s begin billboard advertising.
1961: The brothers sold Kroc the business rights for $2.7 million, funds borrowed from investors.
Kroc used a new slashed golden M logo for the company. Hamburger University opened in Illinois in a McDonald’s restaurant.
1962: McDonald’s first national magazine ad appeared in Life magazine.
The first restaurant with seating opened in Colorado.
The Golden Arches logo became McDonald’s logo.
1963: The one billionth hamburger was sold. The 500th restaurant opened in Ohio.
The filet-o-fish was introduced.
1965: Their 10th anniversary was celebrated by offering public stock at $22.50 a share.
Ronald McDonald appeared in the first TV commercial on a flying hamburger on NBC/CBS stations.
1967: The first restaurant in a US territory opened in Puerto Rico, and the first outside the US opened in British Columbia.
The stand-alone restaurant common today was introduced.
1968: The Big Mac was added to the nationwide menu alongside The Hot Apple pie. The 1000th McDonald’s restaurant opened in Illinois.
McDonald’s airlifted hamburgers to homesick US athletes in France, starting their support of the Olympics.
1970: McDonald’s opened in Costa Rica, the 3rd country after the US and Canada.
1971: The first Asian McDonald’s opened in July in Japan.
In August, the first European McDonald’s outlet opened in the Netherlands.
The first McDonald’s in Germany opened, being the first to sell alcohol.
The first Australian McDonald’s opened.
1972: McDonald’s generated $1 billion in sales through 2200 restaurants.
1973: The first McDonald’s Playland opened in California. The Quarter Pounder was released.
1974: November 13 saw the first UK and overall 3000th restaurant in Woolwich, London.
1975: The first Drive-Thru was opened in Arizona to serve nearby Fort Huachuca’s soldiers who couldn’t wear army clothing outside their cars.
The egg McMuffin was introduced.
1978: The 5000th McDonald’s restaurant opened in Japan.
The Hamburger University received its 15,000th graduate.
1979: The Happy Meal was introduced in the U.S with a circus wagon theme.
1980: The first-ever poultry item, the McChicken sandwich, was introduced and failed.
The 6000th restaurant opened in Munich, Germany.
The first restaurants opened in Spain, Denmark, and the Philippines.
1983: By the end of the year, McDonald’s was in 32 countries with 7778 restaurants.
Chicken nuggets were introduced to all restaurants.
1984: McDonald’s was a main sponsor of the Summer Olympics, and U.S. branches lost money on the game; “When The US Wins, You Win,” with many US medal winners after a Soviet boycott of the games.
Ray Kroc died.
1985: The original store re-opened as a museum.
1987: The first Scottish store opened 13 years after its first UK appearance.
1988: The first Korean and Serbian restaurant was launched. Fortune Magazine named McDonald’s hamburgers as one of the 100 best products America makes.
The 10,000th restaurant opened in Virginia.
1990: The first McDonald’s opened in Moscow and China; Moscow’s was the world’s largest and was opened by McDonald’s Canada “for political reasons.”
1991: McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in Portugal.
1992: The first McDonald’s opened in Africa and Poland.
A new largest opened in Beijing with 700+ seats.
1993: The first Saudi Arabian restaurant opened and the first one at sea on the Silja Europa, sailing between Helsinki and Stockholm.
1995: For a more mature image, McDonald’s released the Arch Deluxe sandwich and a huge ad campaign, “have you had your break today?” and, after the apartheid, the first South African McDonald’s opened.
1996: The First McDonald’s opened in Belarus, Peru, and India, marking the 100th country and beyond.
1997: The McFlurry was invented by a Canadian franchise.
1998: The first Pakistani restaurant opened, and McDonald’s began its 7-year partnership with Disney/Pixar.
1999: The First Georgian restaurant opened.
2000: The 1000th British store was opened in the Millennium Dome.
2001: The FBI said Simon Worldwide, a company hired for Happy Meal and McDonald’s Monopoly promotion marketing services, stole $20+ million worth of winning parts.
2002: McDonald’s posted its first quarterly loss of $344m and responded with higher quality and variety of products and withdraws from 3 countries, including Bolivia, whilst closing 175 failing restaurants.
McHappy day, or World’s children day, was established for children everywhere; since its launch, it has raised $170 million.
The $1 menu was launched in the US.
2003: McDonald’s started the “I’m lovin’ it” campaign promoting a healthier and higher-quality image.
They had a $126M loss for the fourth quarter, and the ‘plan to win’ framework was launched as well as premium salads, the McGriddles, and chicken selects.
2004: Following ‘Super-Size Me,’ a movie documentary showing fast foods’ detrimental health effects, Supersize options were cut.
2005: McDonald’s trialed call centers for drive-thru orders.
The North Dakota center took orders from over a dozen stores in Oregon and Washington, mainly driven by labor costs. The minimum wage in North Dakota was 40% lower than in Oregon or Washington.
In this year, Singapore started a McDelivery service 24/7 with customers ordering over the phone.
2006: Nutritional information was displayed on all packaging with the new menu focusing on chicken, salads, and “fresh foods”.
McDonald’s and Disney’s deal ended, and the DreamWorks Animation partnership began.
2008: McDonald’s started using new packaging and a new menu with realistic photos of plated food and glassed drinks.
It went nationwide in 2009 and worldwide in 2010.
2009: The 20th Century Fox partnership began.
2010: Subway stole the title of largest single-brand chain and largest global restaurant operator.
2011: A deal was made with the Marine Stewardship Council to certify the fish used for the Filet-O-Fish sold in Europe.
McDonald’s was operating in 119 countries.
2012: Drive-thru menus began displaying items’ calories.
2013: The first Vietnamese restaurant was awarded to the son-in-law of the prime minister.
Sydney, Australia, trials home delivery with online ordering via Menulog.
2015: The US rolled out all-day breakfasts, and the whole world looked in awe.
The first McDonald’s Next store, an updated store with a more gourmet bespoke menu, opened in Hong Kong.
2016: McDonald’s reported 10 years of growth with figures from their first quarter.
They worked on the “Follow Our Foodsteps” campaign, a virtual reality story showing each step of production from farm to table.
2019: McDonald’s replaced plastic straws with paper straws in the 1,361 McDonald’s restaurants in the UK.
So there we have it, from the humble beginnings of a typical American barbeque shack to a global superpower covering over 100 countries with a university, a sports team, and a global charity.
You have to admire the sheer determination of Kroc, he definitely saw the potential, and he took it as far as he could, and after his death, the wheels carried on turning.
McDonald’s stays such a big company by constantly adapting, getting with the times, offering online ordering systems, a better menu, and changing according to demand, whilst also stepping on the little guy and contributing to the world obesity problem, but that’s for another day.
Whatever the condition of their food, the brand is still growing, opening in new countries, and spreading like a plague, and there really is no sign of stopping.