Since its birth in the 1950s, McDonald’s has gone on to redefine what we eat. And the fast food giant remains eminently popular: indeed, according to a 2016 estimate, it sells food to 69 million customers a day from 36,900 outlets across the world. A recent announcement by the brand, though, reveals a change in the making – and one that signals an end to something quite special about the company, too.
McDonald’s as we know it, however, was originally brought to life by a milkshake machine salesman called Ray Kroc. While on the road in 1954, Kroc had patronized a California hamburger restaurant run by brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald. And, as it turned out, that visit provided a moment of inspiration for Kroc that would eventually change the world.
Indeed, Kroc realized the incredible potential of the restaurant, figuring that its concept could catch on elsewhere. Consequently, he became a franchise agent and ended up opening his own McDonald’s outlet in Des Plaines, Illinois, in 1955. The former salesman then embarked on a period of expansion for the company.
And, as it happened, Kroc’s efforts were so successful that he was actually able to purchase the McDonald’s brand itself in 1961. The two McDonald brothers had resisted opening too many restaurants, which diverged from Kroc’s plan for the company – as a result, Kroc bought the siblings out.
In 1984, however, the Des Plaines location opened by Ray Kroc was demolished. Instead, it would become the site of a replica restaurant, built as a monument to the history of McDonald’s. In that way, visitors could see what one of the original franchises actually looked like.
Then, in 2017, McDonald’s made an announcement about the Des Plaines site that may have caught some people by surprise. And in its own way, the decision marks the end of an era for the corporation. There’s a good reason why the company is making such a change, however.
Specifically, McDonald’s would reveal in a statement, “We have decided to permanently close the replica of McDonald’s first franchised restaurant and hope to donate the land to the City of Des Plaines. The re-created restaurant… has not regularly welcomed visitors since closing to the public ten years ago.”
The statement continued, “This, combined with the building’s location and the feasibility to reopen and maintain it, led us to this decision.” The message did however note that the Des Plaines site “will always have a special place in our company’s history.”
And a spokeswoman for McDonald’s would also tell the Chicago Tribune, “[McDonald’s] will remove and preserve anything of historical value before the [demolition] work begins.” Notably, the replica includes memorabilia such as original grills and milkshake mixers as well as mannequin employees in original McDonald’s uniforms.
Furthermore, the milkshake machines are copies of the kind that Ray Kroc originally sold – the reason why he had visited the McDonald’s in California in the first place. The basement of the replica was full of memorabilia too, including photos and some older advertisements. Visitors have not seen these for years, though.
And, intriguingly, the replica shows that the original McDonald’s had a completely different mascot to the famous clown we know today: that is, Speedee. The character was named after the Speedee Service System, a form of production line arrangement used to make burgers and invented by the McDonald brothers.
But although the Des Plaines replica is no more, there is another location to which McDonald’s fans can pay pilgrimage. Specifically, they can head to the original McDonald’s in San Bernardino, which now hosts an unofficial memorabilia collection.
The San Bernardino location is owned and managed by Albert Okura, who set it up as a tribute in 1998. To do that, however, Okura had to get permission from the McDonald’s Corporation itself, to avoid infringing on any trademarks.
Similarly, there is also a McDonald’s-themed museum in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania; this, however, is devoted to one item alone. In short, the location is dedicated to the Big Mac burger – a staple of McDonald’s restaurants since the late 1960s.
And the man who originally brought the Big Mac into being was Jim Delligatti. In particular, the entrepreneur came up with the burger in 1967, when he owned a McDonald’s in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. It’s worth noting, though, that Delligatti didn’t give the Big Mac the name by which it is now globally renowned.
As a matter of fact, the Big Mac’s original name was the Aristocrat. But even though it was the same burger that eventually became so popular, the name failed to take off because people apparently found it challenging to pronounce. Furthermore, the second moniker McDonald’s tried, Blue Ribbon Burger, also failed to enthuse consumers.
Eventually, though, a young advertising secretary came up with a name that would arguably help make the burger a hit. Esther Glickstein Rose was working at the McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Illinois in 1967 when she hit upon the idea of calling the burger a “Big Mac.”
Perhaps, then, Rose deserves some credit, as the Big Mac has turned into quite the money-spinner for McDonald’s. Indeed, it remains popular to this day. One Big Mac is estimated to be sold every 17 seconds in the U.S., for instance: that adds up to an incredible 550 million a year.
And according to author Rachel Weingarten, the Big Mac acts as a kind of cultural unifier, a way of speaking across nations. She told the Associated Press in 2007, “You can live in Beijing or Brooklyn, and you can enjoy as your favorite snack a Big Mac. Maybe you didn’t grow up speaking the same language… but you suddenly have a point of reference.”
So, while the news that the replica restaurant will be demolished undoubtedly comes as a disappointment to some, McDonald’s isn’t ditching its history entirely. After all, as the Big Mac remains a big seller, it’s likely to stay on restaurant menus for a while yet – more than 50 years since its beginnings in Pennsylvania.