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Mike Mozart via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Mike Mozart via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

15 Biggie-Size Facts You Might Not Know About Wendy's

Mike Mozart via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Mike Mozart via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Even if you're an avid fan of the Frosty or can't get enough of the Baconator (and new Baconator fries), there are probably a few things you don't know about the No. 2 burger joint in the U.S.

1. Wendy’s is named after Dave Thomas’ daughter, Melinda.

As a child, she had the same issue pronouncing Rs and Ls that many kids do, and she referred to herself as “Wendy” or “Wenda.” Her likeness was also used for the famous pigtailed logo. 

2. Dave Thomas never knew his biological family.

Thomas was adopted when he was just six weeks old and never met his birth parents. Though he sought his mother out when he was 21, he found that she had already passed away. He did meet her family, but said he didn’t feel close to them. Thomas had no urge to meet his biological father at all, but his daughter was able to find out more about her grandfather in the 1980s. He had passed away by this time, and his son, a college professor and MIT graduate, wanted nothing to do with his famous half-brother.

3. Despite his negative experience, he created the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

Thomas didn’t have a great experience with adoption. His adoptive mother died when he was just five, and his adoptive father, Rex, remarried three times after that. Rex moved around the country often in search of jobs, so Dave lived in 12 different cities by the time he was 15. On top of that, he didn’t have a particularly close relationship with his dad, summing up Rex's parenting style as, "He fed me, and if I got out of line he'd whip me."

Perhaps hoping that he could help other children find better matches, he founded the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in 1992. He also hoped that he could make it easier for adopted children to talk about their experiences. "You'd be surprised the people who were adopted who don't want to talk about it,” he once said. “It's hard for people who have a mother and father to understand. Adoption was like the plague."

4. Dave Thomas dropped out of high school.

As a teen, Thomas decided his time would be better spent working full-time rather than attending high school. But when he got older and his story became more well known, he worried that his business success would tell kids that they didn’t need high school to succeed in life. To set a good example, Thomas went back to high school and got his G.E.D. at the age of 61. His graduating class voted him “Most Likely to Succeed.”

5. Dave Thomas once worked for Harland Sanders.

As an up-and-comer in the fast food business, Thomas worked for Colonel Sanders at some Kentucky Fried Chicken locations in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In the early '60s, he moved to Columbus, Ohio, to help bolster the sales of some floundering stores there. You might be familiar with the tactics he used to help the stores get back in the black: Putting chicken in buckets and promoting it with a giant, rotating, red and white bucket on the sign.

Thomas made $1.5 million by turning the stores around, and used the money to open his own chain.

6. The first Wendy’s opened in Columbus, Ohio, on November 15, 1969.

It closed in 2007 due to declining sales, likely because of poor parking and its lack of a drive-through. Though locals were upset, Dave Thomas' son insisted that his father would have favored practicality over nostalgia. "No one knows my father as well as I do—he was my best friend," Ken Thomas said. "I can tell you right now that he knew, that sooner or later we're going to have to do something with No. 1 store."

7. Wendy’s signature Frosty has been on the menu since day one.

Wendy’s famous Frosty was one of the original five products on the menu in 1969. It cost just 35 cents. The others were hamburgers, chili, French fries and beverages. Frostys must be served at a temperature of between 19 and 21 degrees, by the way, to maintain the perfect thickness and texture.

8. They serve up about 300 million Frostys annually.

Getty

Thomas was obviously on to something when he came up with the Frosty. Wendy’s serves about 300 million of them annually, with the 12-ounce, 99-cent size being the most popular.

9. The chocolate Frosty isn’t all chocolate.

Get ready for some earth-shattering news about your favorite chocolate dairy dessert: It’s actually a blend of vanilla and chocolate. Dave Thomas wanted a thick milkshake that didn’t overwhelm the taste of a hamburger and felt that a pure chocolate dessert was too much. He cut the flavor with vanilla and declared it perfect—so that frozen treat you get at Wendy’s is actually more like a twist cone all mixed together. The all-vanilla Frosty wasn’t introduced until 2006.

10. Square hamburgers aren’t original to Wendy's.

It's less about eating and more about conquering.

A photo posted by Wendy's (@wendys) on

Thomas got his inspiration from Kewpee’s, a hamburger joint in his hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan. White Castle was also serving up angular burgers decades before Wendy’s made it one of their trademarks.

11. It was the first fast food chain to add a salad bar.

Wendy’s Superbar featured a large selection of salad fixings, plus “Mexican Fiesta” and “Pasta Pasta” sections. Upkeep proved to be too labor-intensive, and the salad bar was eventually phased out of stores.

12. The actress known for the “Where’s the Beef” campaign was fired.

Clara Peller, famous for gruffly wondering why her hamburger didn’t feature much hamburger, was dropped from the campaign after spoofing it in a Prego commercial. While shilling for the spaghetti sauce, Peller declared that she had finally found the beef, which Wendy's felt undercut the point of their ads.

13. Dave Thomas starred in more than 800 Wendy’s commercials.

At first, they were terrible—people thought Thomas was too stiff. Scriptwriters figured out a way to play into the founder’s personality, though, and he was soon beloved by consumers. By the time the 13-year campaign ended, Thomas had starred in more than 800 commercials.

14. There's a Foie Gras Burger on the menu in Japan.

Like most other fast food chains, Wendy's offers different items on its international menus. Wendy's Japan featured a Caviar and Lobster Burger and a Lobster Surf and Turf Burger as part of a limited time menu. Order off of the premium menu for a burger topped with foie gras and truffle sauce.

15. There might be a subliminal message in its logo.

Adweek

When Wendy’s refreshed its logo a couple of years ago, consumers immediately noticed a little something extra in the cartoon spokesmodel’s collar: the word “Mom.” Was Wendy’s intentionally trying to make us associate its fast food offerings with the wholesome goodness of mom’s cooking? Not on purpose, said Denny Lynch, the company’s senior vice president of communications. "We are aware of this and find it interesting that it appears our Wendy cameo has 'mom' on her ruffled collar. We can assure you it was unintentional." But once you see it, you can't unsee it.

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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year
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The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]

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