McDonald’s is, hands-down, the most popular fast food restaurant in the US and one of the most popular franchises in the world. Each day, the restaurant serves about 1% of the world’s population, which is a staggering 68 million people. It’s not unlikely that somewhere, someone reading this is eating food from McDonald’s.
McDonald’s is a huge part of life for most Americans, including the president. I, for one, consider myself an expert of the Golden Arches, but even I have to admit that there’s a lot I don’t know about the beloved restaurant.
Here are 19 things you may not have known about the place you’ve been eating all your life.
- Fact: McDonald’s was started by two brothers in California. – In 1937, Richard and Maurice McDonald (who went by Dick and Mac) were running a failing movie theater when they decided to buy a hot dog stand nearby. The Airdrome Hot Dog Stand would be their first foray into the restaurant business.
- Fact: The first McDonald’s opened as a barbecue restaurant. – The brothers opened the first drive-in McDonald’s Bar-B-Que in 1940 in San Bernardino, California. It wasn’t until 1948 that it was re-branded as a place for burgers and fries.
- Fact: The oldest McDonald’s is in Downey, California. – That first restaurant is no longer around, but you can still visit one of the earliest locations. The oldest one still in operation is in Downey, California, which became the fourth McDonald’s ever opened in 1954. It’s even maintained some of the original branding.
- Fact: McDonald’s owes a lot of its success to a businessman named Ray Kroc. – If you’ve seen Michael Keaton in „The Founder,“ the name Ray Kroc may be familiar to you. Kroc, a salesman who was delivering milkshake mixers to McDonald’s in 1954, convinced the brothers to give him the franchising rights to the stores. Kroc started expanding the stores out of California and the rest, of course, is history.
- Fact: Ronald McDonald wasn’t always the mascot. – Today, Ronald McDonald is one of the famous brand mascots in the world, but it might surprise you to know that the original McDonald’s mascot was a little chef named Speedee. He was removed to avoid confusion with the Alka-Seltzer mascot Speedy, although a few of the original locations, like the one in Downey, still have him.
- Fact: Ronald McDonald was based on a real person. – The famous clown was actually based on Willard Scott’s portrayal of Bozo the Clown on Washington, DC’s WRC-AM channel. Scott was tapped to play Ronald McDonald starting in 1963. Thankfully, the look of Ronald was changed over the years, because the original version is sort of terrifying.
- Fact: The „golden arches“ have been around since day one. – The infamous „golden arches“ design is based on the very first store which was designed with two yellow arches on either side. Eventually they were incorporated into the logo, which is one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. McDonald’s was encouraged to stick with the design because of their „Freudian symbolism of a pair of nourishing breasts.“
- Fact: The international menus are very different than American ones. – If you visit a McDonald’s outside of the US, be prepared for a fairly unfamiliar menu. You can probably get a burger and fries, of course, but you’ll also be able to get some food inspired by the local cuisine — like a Nasi Lemak with a side of fried egg in Singapore, the ginger-fried pork burger in Japan, a McAloo Tikki Burger in India, or a McFlurry Stroopwafel in The Netherlands. You can try some of these international items without leaving the country by visiting the Chicago Headquarters.
- Fact: A lot of celebrities have worked in the restaurants. – There are so many famous alumni of McDonald’s, including Pink, Rachel McAdams, Shania Twain, and even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
- Fact: There have been a lot of failed menu items. – You may remember the advertising for Arch Deluxe or the days when your salad came in a shakeable container, but there were a lot more short-lived menu items along the way. Some of them didn’t work because of the time it took to prepare or because they weren’t what consumers wanted from the restaurant, like the McPizza, McLobster, McSpaghetti, and McHotDog. Others were victims of PR nightmares, like the McAfrika being released during famines in Africa, the McDLT (which used double the packaging) being ridiculed by environmentalists, and the film „Super-Size Me“ putting an end to the extra-large sizes.
- Fact: The „Big Mac sauce“ recipe isn’t a secret anymore. – The delicious sauce on the McDonald’s Big Mac remained a „secret sauce“ since 1968, until it was allegedly leaked online in 2017. In 1991 the sauce underwent a recipe-change, but in 2004 McDonald’s answered fans‘ responses and changed it back. If you want to make the sauce at home you’ll just need soybean oil, pickle relish, vinegar, egg yolks, onion powder, sugar, and mustard seed.
- Fact: Some countries have banned the restaurant. – McDonald’s has locations in 119 countries, but not every nation is so thrilled about the fast food giant coming to their home. All of the locations in Bolivia were closed in 2002, and Bolivia’s president Evo Morales has since said that fast food restaurants „are not interested in the health of human beings, only in their earnings and corporate profits.“ Macedonia, Iceland, Zimbabwe, and Iran are also on the list of places where you’ll have no luck finding the fast food giant.
- Fact: The fries are not vegetarian. – Fast food restaurants aren’t vegetarian-friendly as a whole, but a delicious order of french fries is usually the one saving grace. In the case of US McDonald’s, however, the fries aren’t safe either. The ingredients list „natural beef flavor,“ and that flavor has been the subject of controversy and lawsuits. Beef flavoring can mean a variety of things, which McDonald’s hasn’t clarified, but it has made clear on their website that the fries are not vegan- or vegetarian-friendly.
- Fact: McDonald’s has been on the forefront of restaurant technology. – Most fast food restaurants are set up the same – you place your order at a counter, the food is prepared very quickly, and you pick it up at the same counter. This system was started by Mac and Dick McDonald. Using their Speedee Service System, they perfected food preparation by using a system resembling an assembly line with each worker doing a small part of the order (i.e., flipping burgers, adding condiments, or managing the fryer). Since their menus didn’t have a lot of variety, they could also use short order cooks, rather than in-demand chefs, to prepare a lot of food in not a lot of time.
- Fact: There are healthy options. – Those original restaurants may have had little more than burgers, fries, and shakes, but these days the menu looks very different. The restaurant has taken strides towards a healthier menu, and the efforts are paying off. When dietitians were asked to give their go-to meals, they suggested Egg McMuffins, salads, Grilled Chicken Sandwiches, fruit and maple oatmeal, Chicken McWrap, and the Fruit ‚N Yogurt Parfait.
- Fact: Apple pies and breakfast burritos are the least ordered menu items. – According to McDonald’s employees, the apple pies and breakfast burritos are often the least-ordered menu items, which means they have the highest likelihood of not being fresh.
- Fact: McDonald’s is working towards sustainability. – One of the criticisms hurled at McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants is the negative impact they have on the environment due to the mass production of food and packaging needed to run the restaurants. But McDonald’s says it is making changes including recyclable packaging, sustainably-sourced fish and meat, and a commitment to clean energy.
- Fact: One in eight Americans have worked at a McDonald’s. – With over 14,000 stores in the US, McDonald’s is one of the largest employers in the country. For that reason, it’s estimated that one in eight Americans has worked at a McDonald’s at some point in their lives.
- Fact: Almost everyone in the continental US is within 100 miles of a McDonald’s at any given time. – Within the continental United States, there are only two spots where you’re more than 100 miles from a McDonald’s – one in California (115 miles) and one in South Dakota (107 miles). For most of the country, it only takes a short drive to get a Dollar Menu fix.
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