14 Facts You Might Not Know About McDonald's
Founded as a modest barbeque shop by brothers Richard and Maurice “Mac” McDonald in 1940, McDonald’s has grown to become synonymous with fast-service food (and car floors littered with paper wrappers). Pioneering preparation techniques have facilitated unimaginable numbers: the company stopped counting customers when they reached 100 billion back in 1994. Have a look at some things you may not know about the Golden Arches.
1. THEY USED TO SERVE PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES.
Richard and Mac opened their first location in San Bernardino, California in 1940 using a menu that would seem slightly puzzling today. Though barbecued meat was their specialty, the brothers also served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chili with baked beans, and slices of pie. After noticing most of their sales came from hamburgers, the McDonalds closed for three months in 1948 to retool their menu. They restricted themselves to just nine items, including burgers, drinks, and potato chips. (The pie stayed.)
2. THEIR ORIGINAL MASCOT WAS DROPPED BECAUSE OF INDIGESTION.
To mark their 1948 facelift, McDonald’s introduced an official company mascot: Speedee, a burger-faced chef with a bow tie that looked like he was in a perpetual rush. The brothers noted that his round head would make a good base for a lollipop, and decided to hand out Speedee-shaped treats to orphanages and children’s hospitals as a charitable form of advertising. Unfortunately, Speedee seemed a little too similar to Alka-Seltzer mascot Speedy, patron saint of upset stomachs. To avoid confusion, Speedee was retired in 1962.
3. THE ORIGINAL RONALD WAS FIRED FOR BEING TOO FAT.
After sending Speedee away, McDonald’s latched on to the concept of a spokes-clown. Future Today show weatherman Willard Scott was hired in 1963 after a stint as TV’s Bozo the Clown. By 1966, however, the company had plans to hire duplicate Ronalds to make appearances around the country: Fearing they would be unable to find heavyset actors to match Scott’s stocky build, they let him go. (Today, a full-time svelte Ronald can make roughly $40,000 a year, and is forbidden from disclosing his identity in public.)
4. THEY PEDDLE MORE TOYS THAN ANYONE.
It’s reasonable to think massive chain retailers like Walmart or Toys 'R' Us have the toy industry on lockdown, but thanks to their promotional habits, it turns out McDonald’s hands over more toys than any other business on the planet. More than 20 percent of the franchise’s sales come from Happy Meals, which feature a regular rotation of tiny trinkets. In 2013, the company was also poised to become the UK’s largest children’s book distributor when it substituted books for plastic prizes in the meals.
5. THERE MAY BE A REASON THE COKE TASTES BETTER THERE.
Soda snobs have observed that the fountain drinks at McDonald’s locations seem to taste better than anywhere else. The company speculates that could be due to the fact they adhere to Coke’s strict guidelines for serving: the water and syrup mix are pre-chilled before being added to dispensers, and their straws are a little wider than usual so “all that Coke taste can hit your taste buds.”
6. THE MCD.L.T. WAS A PR NIGHTMARE.
Of the company’s many menu gaffes—the McPizza, McSpaghetti, and McHot Dog—the McD.L.T. stands as their greatest cautionary tale. A hamburger that was packaged in a dual-clamshell Styrofoam container to keep the “cool” ingredients (lettuce and tomato) separate from the warm patty, it was roundly criticized for being extremely wasteful and harsh on the environment. Introduced in the mid-1980s, it was discontinued in 1990.
7. A CHANGE IN STRAWS LED TO PROBLEMS CATCHING FISH.
In a move that would have unforeseen, mackerel-related consequences, McDonald’s shifted their straw design in 1984 from a red-and-yellow color scheme to brown-and-yellow. The problem? Fishermen along the Gulf of Mexico had successfully used the original version to lure Spanish mackerel: Three lures could be made from a single sipper, and caught five times as many fish as any other lure. The new straws failed to attract any catches; McDonald’s dryly advised the distressed fishermen try Big Macs instead.
8. ONE FRANCHISEE WANTED TO SERVE BOOZE.
In October 1983, a Sierra, California resort McDonald’s owner applied for a local liquor license and inquired about being granted an exception to the company’s no-alcohol policy. His restaurant, located in the adult-heavy tourist community of Mammoth, would have become the first in the United States to serve beer and wine. (Some European Arches were more liberal.) Just a day after the requests were made public, however, the owner withdrew his plans.
9. A RUMOR ABOUT A SATANIC CULT CUT INTO PROFITS.
Amid the hysteria over heavy metal and Satanic cults in the 1970s, McDonald’s found themselves having to defend against allegations that franchise founder Ray Kroc gave 20 percent of his charitable donations to Satan’s Church in Los Angeles. Initially dismissing it as an amusing rumor, the company saw customers in the Bible Belt of the country take it seriously and refuse to patronize their restaurants. One franchisee in Oklahoma experienced a 20 percent drop in profits. Executives had to travel to clergymen in states like Ohio and Indiana to play Kroc’s recent interviews to prove he had never said such a thing. Though the company hired a full-time employee to investigate the source of the rumor—some speculated it was a rival restaurant chain—it was never found.
10. A BIGGER MENU HAS LED TO BIGGER PROBLEMS.
While the company’s manual mandates a quick 90-second turnaround time for orders, a constantly revised menu has complicated things considerably. In 2003, corporate introduced the McWrap, a salad inside of a tortilla shell: the tortilla needed to be steamed and often wouldn’t fit inside of the driver-friendly packaging. When all-day breakfast was introduced in 2015, eggs and hash browns had to vie for space on the griddles and deep fryers. All of it, disgruntled franchisees claim, contributes to a slower order time.
11. SAN FRANCISCO BANNED HAPPY MEALS.
In an effort to curb the frenzied pleas of children for a nutritionally bankrupt Happy Meal in order to score the free toy, San Francisco passed an ordinance in 2011 that prohibited the company from peddling the promotion within city limits. To get around the law, the company began charging 10 cents for the toy, skirting around the definition of "free."
12. THEY ALMOST LANDED ON AN ASTEROID.
When NASA affiliate company Jet Propulsion Laboratory initiated some ambitious plans to land a spacecraft on an asteroid named Hamburga in the early 1990s, they attempted to partner with McDonald’s to sponsor the trip. The match made in the stars was not to be: the project went over budget, and Hamburga remains un-franchised.
13. THEY’RE ILLEGAL IN BERMUDA.
In an effort to keep their territory untouched by corporate expansion, Bermuda’s government adopted a Prohibited Restaurants Act in 1977 to keep chains off the island. A McDonald’s did manage to sneak in on a U.S. Naval base in 1985, but was unable to remain after the base closed in 1995.
14. THEIR FIRST EXPANDED LOCATION IS NOW BASICALLY AN UNDERWATER MUSEUM.
When businessman Ray Kroc bought out the McDonald brothers, he opened his first location in Des Plaines, Illinois in 1955. After 29 years, the building was demolished—but the company rebuilt it using the original blueprints to turn it into a monument of their history. Repeat area floods have kept tourists away, though: the interior closed in 2008, leaving McDonald’s fans to take pictures of the outside.