The History of McDonald’s

If you ask anyone which fast-food chain they are most familiar with, they would most likely answer “McDonald’s.” Indeed, patrons would immediately recognize its iconic golden arches that have graced its restaurants for over 80 years.

McDonald’s is so ubiquitous all over the world that people think that it’s always there. The truth is, it hasn’t been. McDonald’s was founded in 1940 by two brothers – neither of whom was named Ronald – but it looks like it’s always here to stay to answer your burgers-and-fries cravings.


The first burger

Food had been brothers Richard (1909 – 1998) and Maurice (1902 – 1971) McDonald’s passion. Their father, Patrick, ran his own food stand called “Airdome” in the Los Angeles County city of Monrovia, California, just near Monrovia Airport. The stand first sold hot dogs, and later added burgers to their menu.

In 1940, Richard and Maurice moved their restaurant in San Bernardino, California, and fashioned it as a barbecue restaurant, calling it “MacDonald’s Bar-B-Que.” It also offered 25 menu items.

The brothers realized that the burgers became their best-sellers, so in 1948 they decided to scale down their operation by simplifying their menu – hamburgers, cheeseburgers, potato chips, soft drinks, coffee, and apple pie. Later on, they replaced potato chips with French fries and milkshakes. They also changed the serving style of their restaurant from the earlier carhop to self-service. They renamed their newly revamped restaurant simply as “McDonald’s,” and Richard McDonald cooked the first McDonald’s burger.

In 1952, the brothers had the building redesigned to achieve better efficiency in their service and a more eye-catching appearance. They built a slender yellow arch built at each end of the building, called “golden arches,” looping over the building but not joined together yet to make the now-iconic “M” logo.

profile of a man smiling
Ray Kroc

The expansion

In 1954, Ray Kroc, a salesman for a company that made milkshake machines, noticed that the McDonald’s brothers had purchased eight machines for their restaurants. Driven by curiosity, Krock went to visit the restaurant. At the time, the McDonald brothers had six operating franchise locations.

Kroc seemed to smell success at this point. He suggested to the brothers that they franchise their restaurants throughout the country. While the brothers were initially skeptical, Kroc offered the major responsibility of setting up a new McDonald’s franchise in the country.

Here’s what the franchise organization would look: anyone who wanted to open a McDonald’s branch would pay Kroc around a thousand dollars and 1.9% from the restaurant’s annual profits. Kroc would allocate 0.5% of the profits to the McDonald’s brothers while keeping the remaining 1.4%.

Kroc opened the first McDonald’s restaurant on April 15, 1955, in Des Plaines, Illinois, just near Chicago.

By 1961, Kroc was virtually running the whole business, and all was left for the McDonald brothers was their one restaurant. They received 0.5% from the larger company Kroc founded. The McDonald brothers were happy with their business and did not care for the company Kroc had established their restaurant. Kroc, on the other hand, had ambitious plans for expanding the McDonald’s brand. His goal was to put a McDonald’s restaurant in every American state, something he would eventually do, and a lot more.

As expected, a bitter conflict over the company’s vision was brewing between Kroc and the McDonald brothers. Kroc asked them how much money they wanted so that they could leave the business to him entirely. As a result, Kroc bought the funding brothers out to the tune of $2.7 million.

McDonald’s franchises would grow swiftly. By the end of the 1960s, there were over a thousand McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. In 1967, McDonald’s opened its first overseas restaurant in British Columbia, Canada. From there, the chain expanded quickly and steadily. By 1971, McDonald’s opened its branches in three new continents. The following year, the company passed the $1 billion annual profit mark. The rest, they say, is history.


McDonald’s has 38,000 restaurants in over 100 countries around the world, serving 69 million customers daily, according to its corporate website.

Among the best-known items in the McDonald’s menu are Big Mac, French fries, Egg McMuffin, Chicken McNuggets, baked apple pie, Double Cheeseburger, and hash browns. Their “Happy Meal”– boxed meals that come with small toys — is widely popular. Variations of the menu depend on the country. For instance, India has Veg Pizza McPuff, South Korea has shrimp burgers, Norway has sweet potato fries, and the Netherlands offers the Stroopwafel McFlurry. McDonald’s rice burgers are popular in several Asian countries.

The problems

McDonald’s is seen as a symbol of American culture and way of life, as well as a symbol of globalization. However, not everyone is happy with it. Europeans, in particular, have seen McDonald’s or any American-style fast food as an insult to their cherished local and national cuisines. Bermuda, on the other hand, banned all fast-food restaurants to halt the opening of McDonald’s branch on the island. In 1999, a group of protesters led by Jose Bove dismantled a McDonald’s franchise that was under construction in Millau, France.

McDonald’s Corporation has also been a hotbed for various criticisms and public debates, ranging from its link with obesity to seemingly questionable sources of their meat to the treatment of their workers.

Still a fast food leader

Whether or not you like their food or their policies, you cannot deny McDonald’s dominance in the world of fast food, thanks to their innovation and skillful, aggressive marketing campaigns, and promotions. It has weathered all the controversies and continued to expand into more locations in the U.S. and several countries around the world.