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

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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.

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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.

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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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10 Dangerous Toys from Decades Past (and the Commercials That Sold Them)
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Baby Boomers are a hardy bunch. They rode in cars that weren’t equipped with special toddler seats, walked to and from school without being electronically tethered to their parents, ate lunches filled with allergens and preservatives, played with toys that would be quickly pulled from shelves today, and still persevered to become the largest living generation of the U.S. population. Whether you owned a Johnny Seven One Man Army or just want to know more about the ultra-violent, bestselling toy of 1964, let's take a look back at some of the dangerous toys of yesteryear and the commercials that sold them.

1. SIXFINGER

My younger brother had one of these, and I’m here to tell you that as tiny as it was, this gun had some serious firepower—those little plastic bullets hurt like heck! (You think your average seven-year-old boy is going to pay attention to the package disclaimer that warned against aiming the Sixfinger at human targets?) Just in case the possibility of losing an eye to a sharp projectile wasn’t edgy enough, one of the “bullets” came equipped with a cap—the shock-sensitive exploding variety. All this mayhem was available for the bargain price of two dollars.

2. SWING WING

The Transogram Company had been producing mainstream toys such as Tiddlywinks and doctor's kits since 1959. Then one day in 1965 the vice president of product development, whose brother-in-law was apparently an out-of-work chiropractor, came up with the idea for the Swing Wing. Nothing says “fun” like a cerebral hemorrhage, so Swing Wing was eventually pulled from the market, leaving kids searching for a new fun way to get their spinal injuries on.

3. SLIP 'N SLIDE

Wham-O introduced the Slip ‘N Slide in 1961, a time when neighborhood swimming pools were few and far between and water slide theme parks were nonexistent. The idea was to cool off and have fun at the same time by running up to and then belly-flopping down on a water-slicked strip of vinyl. Wham-O sold millions of Slip 'N Slides over the years, and if a kid broke a toe on one of the stakes that secured the mat to the ground or left most of their epidermis on the driveway because they slid too far, well, as Mom always said, “It’s your own fault, don’t come crying to me.” It wasn’t until the more litigious 1990s that words like “spinal cord injury” and “death” started appearing in the lengthy list of warnings included on the Slip ‘N Slide instruction sheet.

4. WATER WIGGLE

It looked innocent enough, but if your neighborhood had good water pressure and some joker turned the hose on full blast, Wham-O’s Water Wiggle turned into a semi-lethal weapon. It danced and bobbed erratically, and could wrap around you like a boa constrictor. And that plastic head was heavy! But bloody noses and chipped teeth were a small price to pay for some summertime fun.

5. JOHNNY SEVEN ONE MAN ARMY

No wonder kids today get into so much trouble—it’s those consarned video games they’re always playing. Nothing but shooting and street fighting and an overall culture of violence. Not like the toys of the 1960s. Back then we had wholesome products like the Johnny Seven One Man Army, which was the biggest-selling toy for boys in 1964. Johnny Seven came equipped with a cap pistol, rocket launcher, and “armor piercing” bullets, along with a few other features necessary for stopping Communism dead in its tracks.

Johnny Seven weighed about four pounds fully assembled, so a kid got a good aerobic workout when he ran around toting one outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Topper Toys used a unique tactic to give Johnny Seven maximum exposure: instead of only stocking it in toy and department stores, they also made it available in grocery stores, a place mom usually dragged her kids to at least once per week.

6. CREEPY CRAWLERS

An exposed hot plate combined with potentially toxic fumes equaled fun in 1964. The Thing Maker was a gadget you plugged in and then waited until it heated up to 300°F. Then you poured “Plasti-Goop” into the creepy insect-shaped metal molds and waited for them to heat-set. Ideally, you were supposed to wait until after you’d unplugged the Thing Maker and it had cooled off before removing your Creepy Crawlers, but who has time for that when you want to put a fake spider in your sister’s bed before she turns in? Burns and blisters were a fact of life in the plastic bug business, and you simply sprayed the injury with some Bactine and hid it from Mom so she wouldn’t take your Thing Maker away. Plasti-Goop was marketed as “non-toxic,” but that was in 1964 before the dangers of little things like melted PVC and lead paint were generally known.

7. WHAM-O AIR BLASTER

Wham-O introduced the Air Blaster gun in 1965 ... then pulled it from shelves not too long afterward. It turned out that some kids weren’t content to just blow out birthday candles long-distance; they were pointing their Air Blaster right against their friends’ ears to “see what happened.” (Permanent damage was the answer.) Those same pranksters also discovered that any object that could fit into the muzzle could also be shot with missile-like force. You know what they say, it’s all fun and games until someone figures out how to use their Air Blaster as a flamethrower.

8. WHAM-O WHEELIE BAR

The lack of protective helmets in this commercial is understandable, since they weren’t readily available at the time. But barefoot kids popping wheelies, riding no-handed, and performing daredevil stunts like standing on the seat? One has to wonder whether Wham-O held stock in some urgent care clinic chain.

9. SUPER ELASTIC BUBBLE PLASTIC

Surprise! We have yet another entry from those folks at Wham-O. This time the fun was contained inside a metal toothpaste-like tube filled with a colorful liquid-y plastic-y substance. You squeezed out a tiny glob of the stuff, rolled it into a tiny ball, and then plopped it onto the end of a plastic straw, which was included. Then you blew into the straw to create a multi-colored sphere that was more durable than a soap bubble, but a bit more fragile than a traditional balloon. The drawback was that one of the main ingredients in Super Elastic Bubble Plastic was ethyl acetate, a solvent used in nail polish remover. Combine that with polyvinyl acetate, the other primary component, and kids were exposed to some serious health risks if they happened to inhale too much while inflating their plastic bubbles.

10. WITCH DOCTOR HEAD SHRINKER KIT

Who knows exactly what chemicals made up the “plastic flesh” that progressively shrunk over the span of 24 hours. Given the time period (the late 1960s) we’re guessing that either the flesh or the paint had some level of toxicity. But what about the other inherent danger involved? Say you, as a kid, taking advantage of the assurance in the commercial that homemade shrunken heads were appropriate for “all occasions”? Would Mom smack the heck out of you after Grandma nearly collapsed when she unwrapped the shrunken head birthday present you’d made for her?

BONUS: GILBERT U-238 ATOMIC ENERGY LAB

By Webms (online) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m sort of sneaking this one in, as I don’t know if it was ever advertised on television, but it’s too good to pass up. In 1951 A.C. Gilbert, the man who invented the Erector Set, introduced a brand new educational toy: the Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab. Gilbert worked closely with physicists at M.I.T. while developing the kit, and also had the unofficial approval of the U.S. government, which thought that such a toy would help the average American understand the benefits of nuclear energy.

The Lab came equipped with a Geiger-Mueller radiation counter, a Wilson cloud chamber (to see paths of alpha particles), a spinthariscope (to see "live" radioactive disintegration), four samples of Uranium-bearing ores, and an electroscope to measure radioactivity. It also included a comic book featuring Dagwood Bumstead (the man who couldn’t leave his own house without knocking the mailman down) describing how to split an atom. The Atomic Energy Lab’s main drawback, other than possible radiation poisoning, was its price tag: a whopping $49.50, which would be over $300 in today’s dollars.

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The Highs and Lows of the Dell Dude
John Lamparski/Getty Images for Hulu
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Benjamin Curtis was just 19 years old when he went to the open audition that would change his life, but he still felt like a senior citizen. He was surrounded by child actors from the ages of 12 to 17, most of them accompanied by their mothers. The group was part of a casting call for Dell, the personal computing company well-known to business and educational customers but an unproven commodity for the home market.

Dell’s ad agency, Lowe Worldwide, hoped to change that reputation by introducing the character of Steven, a sharp, tech-savvy teen who would extol the virtues of Dell’s desktop and laptop offerings in a charmingly goofy manner. Even though he was two years outside the age range, Curtis’s agent believed he had a shot.

He read. And read again. And then read a third time. By December 2000, Curtis had gotten the part and was quickly becoming known as the “Dell Dude,” a pitchman who rivaled the Maytag Man in terms of commercial popularity. But by 2003, the character would disappear, victimized by a peculiar kind of corporate hypocrisy. While the Dell Dude’s stoner wisdom was good for laughs and increased sales, Curtis being arrested for actual marijuana possession was not.

In 1984, Michael Dell was a pre-med student at the University of Texas when he began tinkering with home computing hardware. A serial entrepreneur—he once made $18,000 as a teenager collecting data to find new subscribers for the Houston Post—Dell figured that custom machines and aggressive customer support would help fill a niche in the growing PC market.

He was right. Dell racked up $1 million in sales that year and spent the next decade and a half expanding into a billion-dollar enterprise. But a lot of Dell’s business consisted of commercial accounts like schools and government offices, leaving direct-to-consumer sales largely untapped. To help introduce Dell to those users, the company hired Lowe Worldwide to create a campaign that would appeal to people who felt intimidated by the personal computing phenomenon.

Lowe conceived of a precocious kid who could rattle off Dell’s specs and lend a human face to their line of hardware. But the “Dell Dude” wasn’t fully realized until Curtis walked in the door.

Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Curtis grew up interested in performing magic and drifted toward theater in an attempt to strengthen his stage presence. He went on to earn an acting scholarship to New York University and had a roommate who knew a commercial talent agent. Having been introduced to her, he began going out on casting calls. One of them was for Dell.

Embodied by Curtis, the Steven character morphed into a Jeff Spicoli-esque surfer archetype, fast-talking and charming. In his first appearance, Steven makes a videotaped appeal to his father for an $849 Dell desktop “with a free DVD upgrade” because he knows his dad “likes free stuff.” In another, he encourages a friend’s family to gift his buddy with a Dell for $799, complete with an Intel Pentium III processor.

The commercials debuted in 2000, but it wasn’t until DDB, the Chicago ad agency that took over Dell’s account, introduced a catchphrase that Steven acquired his nickname. In his fourth commercial, he announced to his friend, “Dude you’re getting a Dell!”

From that point on, Dell’s splash into residential home computing was guaranteed. Sales rose 100 percent, with Dell’s market share growing by 16.5 percent. The awareness was almost exclusively the result of Curtis’s popularity, which grew to include numerous online fan pages and calls for personal appearances. Younger viewers wrote in and wondered if he was available for dates; older viewers considered him a non-threatening presence.

By 2002, Steven had starred in more than two dozen Dell spots. In some of the later ads, he took a back seat, appearing toward the end of the ads. The cameos prompted some concern among fans that Dell would be sidelining Curtis, but company representatives denied it. In early 2003, however, the Dell Dude found himself out of a job.

“Dude, you’re getting a cell” was the headline in media accounts of Curtis’s arrest in February 2003 on suspicion of attempting to purchase marijuana. Curtis was on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and sporting a kilt he recently acquired in Scotland when an undercover officer spotted him purchasing the drug from a dealer. After being held in custody overnight, Curtis was released and the case was adjourned. If he stayed out of trouble for a year, his record would be expunged.

The New York Times compared the relative innocuousness of his arrest to that of actor Robert Mitchum, who was arrested on a marijuana-related charge in 1948. Despite living in a more conservative era, Mitchum’s career was largely unaffected. The same didn’t hold true for Curtis, however; he was promptly dropped by Dell as their spokesperson. According to Curtis, the company had a strict no-drugs policy for employees, and one strike was all it took to force his dismissal.

Feeling ostracized from commercial work and typecast by the role, Curtis juggled gigs while working at a Mexican restaurant in New York and enduring daily recognition from customers. “They’ll get really drunk, and they’ll start yelling things at me,” he told Grub Street in 2007. “I either ignore them, or if it’s way out of hand, I go up and say, ‘I appreciate your support, but my name is Ben.’ That usually doesn’t work so I smile and ignore them.”

Dell never found a mascot as well-liked as Curtis. They hired singer Sheryl Crow to appear in spots beginning in 2005, but she didn't sway consumers as much as Steven had. In 2010, the company attempted to battle back from negative press over selling defective computers to customers between 2003 and 2005. Today, they typically occupy a list of the top three PC companies, trailing Lenovo and HP.

Curtis, meanwhile, made a segue into off-Broadway performing and now operates Soul Fit NYC, a holistic wellness center in New York that offers yoga, massage, personal training, and life coaching services. Although he’s expressed interest in coming back to Dell as a spokesperson, the company may not appreciate his latest indiscretion: In 2013, he admitted to owning a MacBook.

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