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.

first1. 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.

scott5. 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.

Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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