The Quick 10: 10 Nuggets About McDonald's
It was 69 years ago this month that a couple of brothers in San Bernardino, California, decided to set up a quick-service restaurant selling barbeque to travelers. Thanks to them, we're clogging our arteries with the Big Mac and Filet-O-Fish today, so let's pay homage to the great Mickey D's with a bit of trivia about the company and their goods.
1. The first official McDonald's was called McDonald's Bar-B-Q and stood on the corner of 14th and E Streets in San Bernardino. They sold primarily barbeque, obviously, and offered about 25 different menu items, brought out to vehicles by carhops. No indoor seating was available.
2. Although the barbeque business was pretty banging, they shut down for a bit in 1948 and revamped the place. When they reopened three months later, the place re-emerged as a self-service joint with burgers, fries, potato chips, soda, milk, coffee and pie. A hamburger would set a patron back 15 cents.
3. 1954: the famous Ray Kroc enters the picture. The 52-year-old milkshake machine salesman intended to talk the McDonald brothers into buying more of his products, but ended up franchising the small, family-run business. Kroc's first McDonald's opened a year later in Des Plaines, Illinois, with the now-ubiquitous golden arches. By 1958, more than 100 million hamburgers had been sold. The brothers weren't really interested in expanding any more; they were perfectly satisfied with the growth they had already seen from their meager hamburger stand in San Bernardino. But Kroc had bigger visions for the company and bought the brothers out for a reported $2.7 million in 1961.
4. Kind of a jerk move, if you ask me: the McDonald brothers retained the right to the very first restaurant in San Bernardino, which really angered Ray, so he opened a McD's right by their original store and ran them out of business. The site of the first-ever McDonald's is now home to the corporate headquarters of Juan Pollo restaurants. And because the brothers refused to sell the original building and the land it stood on, Kroc refused to recognize the royalty agreement that they had verbally settled on before - 0.5% of the chain's annual revenues. Although it seemed like an astronomical sum at the time, I'd say old Ray definitely got a heck of a bargain when he bought out McDonald's for $2.7 million. That's chump change to the corporation these days.
5. Ronald McDonald first appeared on the scene in 1963. Willard Scott claims to have invented him - at the time, he was playing Bozo the Clown. When Bozo went off the air in 1962, Scott says McDonald's came to him and asked him to create a character that would equal Bozo in popularity. There is another person trying to claim the Ronald throne, though: performer George Voorhis said he was the original Ronald, and has a newspaper clipping from 1963 that touts his appearance as the famous clown at a local restaurant. McDonald's doesn't acknowledge either claim, but does admit that the first-ever appearance of its mascot was performed by Scott (that's his terrifying portrayal in the picture). Ronald is officially recognized as the "Chief Happiness Officer" of the corporation. Gag.
6. Some of the company's greatest hits have been created by franchisees, not chefs at the home office. The Filet-O-Fish was invented by Lou Groen, a franchiser in Cincinnati whose restaurants were struggling. Noting the large number of Catholic customers, he decided to add a fish sandwich to the menu and it caught on like wildfire. The Big Mac was created by Jim Delligatti, who had several restaurants around Pittsburgh. He wanted it to compete with the Big Boy. Herb Peterson, the operator of a McDonald's in Santa Barbara, was the genius behind the Egg McMuffin. He asked Ray Kroc to look at adding the item to the menu but started serving it before he got approval from McDonald's corporate. They weren't happy at first, but the popularity of the McMuffin proved too great for corporate to ignore.
7. Those of us who are of a certain age remember McDonaldland and its cheerful citizens Grimace, Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese, Birdie and the Fry Kids. The McDonaldland crew is still around today to some extent, but they're not the craze that they were when I was a kid. There are a few characters that were dropped even before these main characters started being phased out, though: Officer Big Mac, Captain Crook and Uncle O'Grimacey. Officer Big Mac resembled Mayor McCheese, except he was a policeman and obviously had that extra bun in the middle of his head. He was created to chase after the Hamburglar and Captain Crook. Crook was, as you might imagine, a take-off on Captain Hook from Peter Pan. He wasn't after hamburgers like the Hamburglar was, though - Crook's idea of serious booty was the Filet-O-Fish sandwich. Uncle O'Grimacey was, go figure, Grimace's uncle from Ireland. He visits Grimace in the States every year to herald the coming of the Shamrock Shake in March. At least, he used to. Now the shakes just show up of their own accord, because Uncle O'Grimacey doesn't appear to be in the advertising plan anymore.
8. Speaking of the delightful Shamrock Shake, it's definitely my favorite McDonald's menu item, and I miss it EVERY YEAR. I love all things mint... so it's weird that I would love the Shamrock Shake, because "mint" or "mint flavoring" is not among the ingredients listed in a Shamrock Shake. And as an aside, this actually made me laugh out loud: apparently McDonald's introduced the "Minty Mudbath" as a promotional item to go with Shrek the Third a couple of years ago. It was a Shamrock Shake with chocolate mixed in. They pulled the item after it was discovered that "minty mudbath" is slang for a fetish sex act. I'm not going to spell it out for you, but Urban Dictionary will.
9. The Happy Meal has been around since 1979. That first one cost only a buck and would get kids a hamburger or cheeseburger, a 12-ounce soda, small french fries, an assortment of little cookies and some sort of little extra: a stencil, a puzzle book, a wrist wallet, an ID bracelet or erasers shaped like McDonaldland characters. They didn't take long to hook up with Hollywood - the first movie-based Happy Meal toy was featured the same year the set was introduced. The toys were based on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I can't remember being infatuated with any of the McDonald's toys, but I do remember having to own all of the California Raisins collectibles you could get at Hardee's.
10. McDonald's has stores in 119 countries on six continents. In Singapore, you can place your order over the phone and have your McD's delivered to you. In Germany (and other European countries) you can enjoy a Pilsner with your Big Mac and fries. If you check out menus in Japan you may find a green tea-flavored milkshake and shrimp nuggets. In Uruguay, you can get a McHuevo, which is a burger topped with a poached egg. I know several people who think any sandwich can be improved by being topped with an egg, so this makes sense to me. And in Norway, you can enjoy a McLak, a salmon sandwich.
So I now have this craving for a Shamrock Shake that I'm not going to be able to satisfy until next March. Awesome. Do you have a favorite McDonald's item, or do you swear off fast food? Honestly, I'm more of a Wendy's girl, myself.