McDonald's
McDonald's

14 Unusual Ways McDonald's Did Business in the '60s

McDonald's
McDonald's

One tablespoon of ketchup; 1.6 ounces of ground beef; a pickle slice one inch in diameter. With their expansion into a national chain in the 1950s, McDonald’s embraced the concept of gastronomic sameness: a burger was a burger no matter where in the country you were. Each was prepared with obsessive detail to conform to company directives.

Like any business, however, McDonald’s knew when to change their corporate recipe to fit the times. Have a look at these 14 facts about the Golden Arches and their unique approach to serving fast food in the 1960s.

1. THEY DIDN’T HIRE WOMEN.

Fast-service restaurants in the ‘40s and ‘50s were renowned for their carhops—perky young women who delivered trays of food to parked automobiles. But franchise founders Maurice and Richard McDonald held a negative opinion about these jobs: They felt it created an atmosphere where families would be uncomfortable visiting a burger stand populated by obnoxious teen boys ogling employees. They eliminated the carhop position, expecting customers to instead approach windows on foot. Subsequent owner Ray Kroc held firm to the no-women policy: “We don’t hire female help,” he told the Associated Press in 1959. The freeze lasted until franchise operators began insisting on a gender-balanced staff in the mid-to-late-‘60s. Even then, Kroc ruled that female employees be “flat-chested” and not work the grill since they didn’t possess the “stamina” for such intensive labor.  

2. THEY’D WASH YOUR WINDOWS.

Several McDonald’s promotions in the early 1960s promised a free windshield wash for drive-in patrons. The moment anyone pulled up, an employee would deploy a squeegee and clean the glass before an order was placed. McDonald’s offered that it was for “safety” reasons, as though people drove with such filth on their cars it impaired their driving. The fast-food-with-car-wash concept never caught on beyond weekend specials.

3. NOTHING WAS FROZEN.

Find work in a contemporary McDonald’s kitchen and you’ll probably see boxes full of trucked-in frozen French fries and hamburger patties that are sometimes kept on ice up to three weeks before being cooked. This wasn’t always the case, though. One of the company’s most often-repeated talking points in 1960s media was the fact that everything arrived fresh to stores: meat came refrigerated and potatoes were shipped whole. Each location would have to use a peeler and slicer to prepare the fries. Eventually, the spud-related labor began to slow down service, and Kroc began phasing out the fresh fries in 1966.

4. KITCHENS HAD VIEWING WINDOWS.

Believing families had a curiosity about the McDonald’s conveyor-belt approach to food preparation, Kroc had kitchens outfitted with 900-square-foot viewing windows. Covering the front and sides, the quarter-inch glass allowed customers to see every step of burger manufacturing. According to company vice president Don Conley, the layout allowed mothers to inspect the area for cleanliness and walk away “entranced” with the stainless-steel amenities. Dads, presumably, just wanted to see meat sizzle.

5. ENTIRE MEALS COST 45 CENTS.

A burger, fries, and shake set visitors back two quarters, with change back. The chain liked to brag that an entire nuclear family could eat there for just over two dollars. Kroc maintained that it wasn’t food that went up in price, but the service itself. So Kroc attempted to get rid of anything that wasn't edible, telling Time in 1961, “You can’t eat a 20 percent tip." (Cow inflation did eventually set in: In 1966, the price of a hamburger rose from 15 cents to 18.)

6. THEY DIDN’T WANT BUSINESS FROM DIRTY HOBOS.

Family was a key selling point for McDonald’s. Time and again, spokespeople for the chain reinforced the idea of creating an environment parents would be comfortable in. The company told press that new locations were scouted based on the number of church steeples, schools and residential streets nearby, not foot traffic. McDonald's, Kroc said, didn’t want to cater to “transients.”

7. KIDS ATE SIX BURGERS A WEEK. THIS WAS A GOOD THING.

Statistics were a big part of the McDonald’s corporate message when the company began moving across the country.  They estimated roughly 800 million burgers were sold by 1963; 460 stores were operating in 42 states that same year. They also liked to brag that kids had become burger-munching maniacs, telling press that children devoured 6.2 of them per week in 1966.   

8. THEY BANNED CIGARETTE MACHINES AND JUKEBOXES.

Continuing their bid to oust delinquents and miscreants from the premises, Kroc mandated that no location would install a jukebox, cigarette machine, or phone booth. (The jukebox ban was part of his “three nos” campaign, which also included no tipping and no carhops.)

9. YOU COULDN’T SIT DOWN.

With an average transaction time of just 50 seconds, McDonald’s didn’t really have the time or resources to put into washing dishes. Virtually all locations in the early ‘60s amounted to front counters and drive-in windows: There was no place to sit down inside the restaurant itself until 1962, when a Denver, Colo. location became the first to offer stools.

10. THEY INTRODUCED HAMBURGER UNIVERSITY.

McDonald's

Franchisees looking to get in on the near-guaranteed cash cow that was a McDonald’s location needed $12,000 in franchise fees and deposits, and then they would pay 2.2 percent of sales back to McDonald's. They also needed to spend time at Hamburger University in Elk Grove, Ill., where they’d receive a crash course in everything from restaurant management to pickle distribution. Opening in a restaurant basement in 1961, the school offered majors in “hamburgerology” and minors in fries. Accomplished students could graduate “magna cum mustard.” 500 people attended each year.

11. THEY HAD (LOCAL) CELEBRITY APPEARANCES.

Before the rise of Ronald McDonald, McDonald’s took a homegrown approach to in-store appearances. While kids begged parents to let them see such luminaries as Zorro and Uncle Ben, the chain also promoted appearances by regional kid show personalities like Quacky the Ducky, Miss Ann, and Mr. T. (Not that one. Another one.) 

12. KROC DIDN’T WANT A “STINKY” FILET-O-FISH.

McDonald’s now boasts an expansive, two-sided drive-thru menu, but there was a time when they bragged about keeping options capped at 10 items or less. It was Monfort, Ohio franchisee Lou Groen who opened the doors for the McNuggets, Big Macs, and other innovations to come. In 1961, he presented Kroc with the idea for a fish sandwich, which he wanted to introduce to bolster his business during Lent. Kroc was unimpressed, telling Groen he didn’t want stores smelling like seafood. The two eventually agreed on a test market run; the halibut-based sandwich proved to be a hit. McDonald’s now moves more than 300 million of them every year. 

13. FRED TURNER WAS THEIR SECRET WEAPON.

Turner originally wanted to be a franchisee until he lost his financial backing. Going to work for corporate, he became a master of efficiency. It was Turner who would figure out how many burger patties could be piled up before falling over, and that stores could save precious seconds if buns came to them fully separated instead of only partially halved. In 1977, Turner became CEO.

14.  THE ARCHES WERE SUPPOSED TO MAKE YOU THINK OF BREASTS.

McDonald's

While the Golden Arches that formed a swooping “M” were part of McDonald’s architecture that made stores easily recognizable, at least one advisor thought they served another purpose entirely. According to the BBC, psychologist Louis Cheskin convinced the franchise to keep the logo in the 1960s because of the “Freudian symbolism of a pair of nourishing breasts.” The company wound up taking Cheskin’s advice. Despite remodeling their storefronts, the arches stayed.     

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Kars4Kids, YouTube
The Cruel (But Effective) Agony of the Kars4Kids Jingle
Kars4Kids, YouTube
Kars4Kids, YouTube

It can happen suddenly and without warning. Driving in your vehicle, a commercial break comes on. In addition to the standard pleas to use a specific laundry detergent or contemplate debt consolidation, the voice of a preadolescent, out-of-tune child materializes. Your grip on the steering wheel gets tighter. The child begins to warble:

1-877-Kars-4-Kids, K-A-R-S Kars for Kids, 1-EIGHT-SEVEN-SEVEN-Kars-4-Kids, Donate Your Car Today …

An adult breaks in to repeat the lyrics. The two begin to sing in unison:

1-877-Kars-4-Kids, K-A-R-S Kaaaaars for Kiiiids…Donate Your Car Today!

In roughly a minute, it’s over. You go on with your day. But the song’s repetitive melody sticks to your brain like sap. You hear it when preparing dinner. While brushing your teeth. As you put your head on the pillow. When it's finally worked its way out of your brain and you've started to forget, it reappears.

The song is engineered to be obnoxious. And its producers wouldn't have it any other way.

 
 

Since 1999, an untold number of Americans have found themselves reduced to mewling heaps of distress following exposure to the Kars4Kids jingle. The 501(c) nonprofit organization based in Lakewood, New Jersey, spends up to $17 million annually making sure this earwig of a commercial is played across the country. While the purpose is not expressly to annoy you, the fact that the song is irritating is what makes it memorable. And successful. And more than a little controversial.

Kars4Kids began in 1995 as a way to capitalize on the trend of automotive owners donating their unwanted cars in exchange for a tax deduction. Owners who donate their vehicles are able to get an IRS write-off—though typically for only a percentage of the current value—if they declare it a charitable donation. Kars4Kids arranges for the vehicle to be towed away and sold at auction, with proceeds going to afterschool and summer programs for students.

According to the organization, business was slow until one of their volunteers had an idea to craft a commercial song. The melody was purchased from a singer and songwriter named Country Yossi, and Kars4Kids enlisted a child to perform it at an in-house recording session. It debuted in the New York market in 1999, and spread like the plague to the West Coast by 2005 and nationally by 2007.

Aside from Yossi, however, the company has repeatedly declined to identify anyone else involved with creating the song. The reason? Death threats. The tune has apparently enraged people to the point of contemplating murder. Speaking to SanFranciscoGate.com in 2016, music cognition expert Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis said that the combination of repetitive structure and the overly simplistic message was engineered to grate the listener's nerves.

“This simple melodic line is also probably responsible for some of the annoyance,” she said. “These kinds of three and four note lines are often the ones specially crafted for kids learning how to play instruments ... It probably conjures up associations of painful practice sessions.”

 
 

The line between irritating and memorable is often blurry. Kars4Kids has repeatedly pointed to the song as being effective in driving telephone traffic to their number. When they debuted a television commercial in 2014—complete with lip-syncing kids who subsequently got bullied for their participation in the spot—donations went up by 50 percent. To date, the company has received 450,000 cars. In 2017, contributions totaled $39 million.

Surprisingly, people have reserved animosity for something other than the commercial. In 2017, Minnesota's attorney general chastised Kars4Kids for not making it clear to donors that many of the children who benefit from the fundraising are located in the northeast: Kids in Minnesota received just $12,000 of the $3 million raised in that state. Other times, the organization has been criticized for leaving information out of their solicitations. In 2009, both Pennsylvania and Oregon fined the charity for failing to disclose a religious affiliation. (Most of the funds raised go toward Orthodox Jewish groups.) Oregon’s Department of Justice said that Kars4Kids needed to disclose such information in its ads.

Those speed bumps aside, the jingle shows no signs of leaving the airwaves any time soon. Rather than run from the negative response, Kars4Kids marinates in it, sharing hateful diatribes from others on social media.

“Newer people join the [media] team and when they are first exposed to the level of hatred on Twitter they'll be like, 'Are you sure you think this is a good idea that we should keep on playing this?,'" Wendy Kirwan, Kars4Kids’s director of public relations, told Billboard in 2016. “And we've looked at that time and again, and we've come to the conclusion that it's definitely worth sticking with.”

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Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)
How Frozen Peas Made Orson Welles Lose It
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)

Orson Welles would have turned 103 years old today. While the talented actor/director/writer leaves behind a staggering body of work—including Citizen Kane, long regarded as the best film of all time—the YouTube generation may know him best for what happened when a couple of voiceover directors decided to challenge him while recording an ad for Findus frozen foods in 1970.

The tempestuous Welles is having none of it. You’d do yourself a favor to listen to the whole thing, but here are some choice excerpts.

After he was asked for one more take from the audio engineer:

"Look, I’m not used to having more than one person in there. One more word out of you and you go! Is that clear? I take directions from one person, under protest … Who the hell are you, anyway?"

After it was explained to him that the second take was requested because of a “slight gonk”:

"What is a 'gonk'? Do you mind telling me what that is?"

After the director asks him to emphasize the “in” while saying “In July”:

"Why? That doesn't make any sense. Sorry. There's no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with 'in' and emphasize it. … That's just stupid. 'In July?' I'd love to know how you emphasize 'in' in 'in July.' Impossible! Meaningless!"

When the session moved from frozen peas to ads for fish fingers and beef burgers, the now-sheepish directors attempt to stammer out some instructions. Welles's reply:

"You are such pests! ... In your depths of your ignorance, what is it you want?"

Why would the legendary director agree to shill for a frozen food company in the first place? According to author Josh Karp, whose book Orson Welles’s Last Movie chronicles the director’s odyssey to make a “comeback” film in the 1970s, Welles acknowledged the ad spots were mercenary in nature: He could demand upwards of $15,000 a day for sessions, which he could use, in part, to fund his feature projects.

“Why he dressed down the man, I can't say for sure,” Karp says. “But I know that he was a perfectionist and didn't suffer fools, in some cases to the extreme. He used to take a great interest in the ads he made, even when they weren't of his creation.”

The Findus session was leaked decades ago, popping up on radio and in private collections before hitting YouTube. Voiceover actor Maurice LaMarche, who voiced the erudite Brain in Pinky and the Brain, based the character on Welles and would recite his rant whenever he got the chance.

Welles died in 1985 at the age of 70 from a heart attack, his last film unfinished. While some saw the pea endorsement as beneath his formidable talents, he was actually ahead of the curve: By the 1980s, many A-list stars were supplementing their income with advertising or voiceover work.

“He was a brilliant, funny guy,” Karp says. “There's a good chance he'd think the pea commercial was hilarious.” If not, he’d obviously have no problem saying as much.

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