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Where it all started: McDonald’s

Ron Current

Ron Current

I see history as being more than just ancient sites, people and politics. For me there is a history in everyday life. Even our contemporary businesses, that we see or visit every day, have a history. How did they get started, where did they start, and most importantly, who started them. Some of these stories we know, and some we think we know.
My next series of posts will be on some of those businesses that have become cultural icons, not just in the United States but worldwide. I hope that these posts will shed some light on the origins of these well known businesses. So sit back and enjoy “where it all started.”

 

 

McDonald’s Restaurant Museum, San Bernardino, California

The McDonald's museum

The “unofficial” McDonald’s Museum today, on the site of the original McDonald’s brothers restaurant. Photo by the author   

I can remember clearly when the first McDonald’s restaurants opened near where I lived in Mount Clemens, Michigan. To be honest I wasn’t too excited about this interloper, because we had our own “Golden Point” hamburger drive-in. But eventually Mickey Dee’s won out, and the “Point” vanished into fond memories.
Over the years McDonald’s finally became my hamburger place of choice. I remember that I could get five hamburgers, two orders of fries and two large Cokes for $1.83. But that was back in the late 1960’s and McDonald’s is much different today. Back then you’d walked up to a window that was located in the front of the building, ordered your food, which was waiting lined up in rows behind the server. The famous French fries where cut from whole potatoes, the milkshakes were hand made with real ice cream and blended with a large mixer, and you ate in your car. Also all the servers were young men.
We all have our McDonald’s stories to tell about this great American, and worldwide, tradition. However I had no idea of the history of this place with the golden arches until I read Ray Kroc’s autobiography, Grinding it Out. What I learned was that Ray Kroc really wasn’t the originator of McDonald’s, but rather the marketer and developer of what is todays McDonald’s. In his book Kroc credits two brothers in San Bernardino California for creating the process and providing its name.

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The saved historic sign. Photo by the author

While visiting Palm Springs this year I learned that there was a museum on the site of the original McDonald’s  restaurant in San Bernardino, about an hour from where I was staying, so I decided to drive over and see it. While we’re driving there let me give you a little history of McDonald’s.

 

The McDonald brothers
In the late 1930’s Richard “Dick” and Maurice “Mac” McDonald, two transplanted brothers from Manchester, New Hampshire, had a small restaurant selling Hot Dogs, orange juice, coffee and tea called the “Airdrome” in Monrovia California. Wanting to expand their offering in 1940 they moved their entire restaurant, building and all, to 14th and E Street (old Route 66) in San Bernardino California. There they converted it to a Bar-B-Q Drive-In, complete with young female car hops. There was a good and a bad to this new operation: Good, because it became the #1 teen hangout, and bad, because it became the #1 teen hangout. They had problems with unruly teens that kept families away. So Dick and Mac decided to reinvent their concept again to become more family friendly. Seeing that the hamburgers and French fries where their top sellers they decided to cut the menu to just those items.

Mcdonald_brothers

Richard “Dick” and Maurice “Mac” McDonald, photo from the internet

 
Dick McDonald, with an engineering background, created a flow chart to maximize speed and efficiency in the foods preparation, which they called “Speedee Service.” Dick and Mac remodeled their restaurant building and discontinued using car hops. On December 12, 1948 they cut the ribbon on their new restaurant, that they named after their family, “McDonald’s.” Not only was the food delivered fast it was very inexpensive for a family; The hamburgers cost 15 cents and the fries 10 cents, which was great for 1948.
In 1949 the success of the brother’s McDonald’s attracted the attention of milkshake Multi-Mixer Salesmen Ray Kroc. Kroc convinced the brothers that they should francize their concept, with Kroc getting the francize ownership east of the Mississippi River. Soon there became conflict on what was the vision for McDonald’s between the brothers and Kroc, so in 1961, Kroc bought out the brother’s interest and all of their rights for $2.7 million dollars. This might sound pretty good until you know that Kroc’s net worth when he died in 1984 was just under 400 million.

6.-McDo.Hist13_McDonaldBrotherRestaurant

The original McDonald’s as it was in 1948. Photo from the internet.

There parting was not pleasant, and with this terrible relationship between Kroc and the brothers, Kroc forced them to change their restaurant’s name to “Big M.” Then adding insult to injury Kroc built one of his “McDonald’s just down the street. Dick and Mac couldn’t compete with this new McDonald’s and closed their restaurant in 1962.

 

If you get a chance and see the movie “the Founder” you’ll get a idea on what happened, which follows the history fairly close.

The original restaurant’s site today
In 1972 the restaurant building was torn down, with only the original McDonald’s street sign being saved by a concerned neighbor. This sign helps you to find the site where McDonald brothers original McDonald’s was and the museum. The current building there now was built in 1980, and in 1998 it was purchase by Albert Okura, a big McDonald’s fan, the owner of the Pollo Rotisserie restaurants.

Inside the McDonald's museum

Inside the  San Bernardino museum. This museum has everything McDonald’s, not only dating from the brothers but current McDonald’s items. Photo by the author

Okura believes in preserving history, and knowing that the site is a valuable piece of American restaurant history, opened this “unofficial” McDonald’s museum on December 12, 1998, the 50th Anniversary of the opening of Dick and Mac’s McDonald’s.
The museum specializes in the early McDonald’s years as well as items that are more contemporary.  On display are some of the items used in the brother’s original restaurant. There is also a host of McDonald’s packaging, advertising and promotional items to see.

Origanial items from the first McDonald's

Items used at the original McDonald’s. Some were used in the Movie “the Founder.” Photo by the author 

The museum does accepts donations of all McDonald’s related items, and they’d really love to have a Ronald McDonald costume.

 

The museum is open 7 days, and admission is FREE.

The McDonald’s corporation does not recognize this site, or its museum, as the “original.” They consider Ray Kroc’s first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Illinois as location #1. It has a museum also, which I plan on visiting in the future.

Next: “It wiggles and it jiggles,” the story of Jell-O

 

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