Why McDonald's IS True Chicago History

Why McDonald's IS True Chicago History
McDonald's Original Menu

Original Egg McMuffin packaging

Original Egg McMuffin packaging

The introduction of the Big Mac

The introduction of the Big Mac


Willard Scott aka the very first Ronald McDonald

Willard Scott aka the very first Ronald McDonald

Original staff of the very first McDonald's.

Original staff of the very first McDonald's.

The original McDonald's In Des Plaines, IL.

The original McDonald's In Des Plaines, IL.

Ray Kroc (Top) Fred Turner (Bottom)

Ray Kroc (Top)
Fred Turner (Bottom)

My Dearest Chicago,

"Would you like fries with that?" Why hell yes! Who in their right mind would ever say no to a question of that magnitude? Especially when those fries are from an American Institution, named McDonald's.

On April 15th, 1955 - a 52 year old gentlemen named Ray Kroc, who was born in nearby Oak Park officially opened the doors to what we now know as McDonald's Corporation. The location? Des Plaines, IL. Yes, right here in the outskirts of Chicago, Mr. Kroc saw fit to open his first-ever McDonald's franchise.

Fast Forward 60 Years later as Chicago History Online helps celebrate the 60th Anniversary of McDonald's birth right here in Illinois!

Picture yourself being a new Mother, a new Father. As your baby begins to take on life, you sit back for that legendary moment to hear it's first words. Will it be; "Momma?" "Daddy?" "Grandma?" "Grandpa?", instead, their precious little lips begin to mutter out "McDonald's.

It's a word that brings an instant smile to kids of all ages faces.

This past April, we at Chicago History were cordially invited by the McDonald's Corporation based out of Oak Brook to tour the original Restaurant in Des Plaines as well as the company Headquarters which include the famous training and education building known as "Hamburger University" on the McDonald's Corporate Campus.

We can't express enough how nice and compassionate and thorough they were with us. It was truly a day that in our personal book of Chicago History, we will never ever forget.

In honor of it being the 60th Anniversary of McDonald's Corp's humble beginnings, we'd like to take a look back at some of the key moments that helped build what is now an American Classic like no other.

Ray Kroc was Born on October 5th, 1902 in Oak Park to his Parents Rose Mary and Louis Kroc.

At 15 years of age, Ray served as an ambulance driver in the First World War. You want to talk unique Chicago History? Ray served in the very same regiment as another iconic Chicago native, Walt Disney himself! It truly was a "small world after all..."

Fast track to the early 50's:: Ray was a salesman selling Prince Castle Multimixer milkshake machines. He worked across the U.S. and found asome good customers in California: two brothers named Dick and Mac McDonald. They had 3-4 of Ray's machines in use at once, and had purchased ten total (including replacements and ones used for spare parts) for their McDonald's restaurant that they had opened in San Bernadino, CA

Ray immediately saw that he could take this small family-owned business and run wild with it; and that he did.

In 1961, Ray bought the McDonald's name and all the bells and whistles that went along with it directly from the Brothers McDonald for 2.7 million dollars.

Ray's first actual "Chicago" / City location is still up and running today at 6560 S. Stoney Island Ave. in Chicago.

Ray began to take the business across country. McDonald's was becoming a new place where friends, teens, and families started visiting in droves - learning to love  the Golden Arch's food with each additional bite of burger and fry.

The original logo was that of the first McDonald's mascot - "Speedee". Cute little fella. After some time, he was phased out and the logo became the Golden Arches that we see today. That logo was first seen at what we now know as the very first McDonald's Restaurant in Downtown Des Plaines on Lee Street.

The orignal McDonald's is definitely a tourist attraction like no other. I mean, it's McDonald's for gosh sakes.

However, due to it's lack of space and size, and for convenience purposes, it was closed down as a working restaurant and turned into a museum in 1985 - restored and maintained like it looked in its early days. The grounds of the original location are open From May through September, and on certain days, classic cars are parked out front to give it that extra special, vintage feel. Directly across the street is a much larger McDonald's that still offers Breakfast until 10:30 and no holds barred orders after that. Yes, that means you can even order 500 Chicken Mcnuggets and 300 Quarter Pounders with cheese to your heart’s content. 

The early 60's saw McDonald's introduce a new face to go along with the Ffranchise. Legendary “Today’s Show” weatherman Willard Scott, at one point portrayed another Chicago icon - "Bozo the Clown".  However, in his new role, he was donning new threads, still as a clown - but one named McDonald... Ronald McDonald...

Ronald McDonald - "The smile known around the world" says McDonald's, who’s belief is that “Fun makes great things happen.”

Ronald has been the face of the franchise for going on 50+ years! He’s so famous, he was just included in an exhibit at the Museum of Broadcast Communications here in Chicago that salutes “Advertising’s Greatest Icons,” and just last year launched his own Instagram account.

Back to Mr. Kroc, when opening the original location, he insisted on a high level of cleanliness, crisp white button down shirts, and black slacks by his first batch of employees - along with a paper hat with Speedee's smile to add the finishing touch to it. Ray liked things ran very simple and  yet very neat, and coined a phrase that is still ever-present in McDonald’s today: QSCV, or Quality, Service, Cleanliness, and Value.

A side note on Ray, his second dream, (as if he didn't accomplish enough by launching McDonald's) was to buy the Chicago Cubs. Unable to ever work out a deal with the owners at the time, but as a man who was passionate for "America's pastime," he seized the opportunity to purchase another popular baseball franchise: the San Diego Padres. Ray owned the Padres from 1974 until his death in January of 1984.

1984? That year rings a bell with Chicago sports fans. Why?  During that year the Cubs won 96 games. Their Manager, Jim Frey was named National League Manager Of The Year, their star Pitcher, Rick Sutcliffe, was awarded the CY Young trophy, and star second baseman Ryne Sandberg was named baseball's Most Valuable Player! On paper, the Cubs were going to go all the way! However after making it to the National League Championship Series the Cubs dreams of a World Series fell short as they were eliminated 3 games to 2, to of all teams? You guessed it Ray Kroc's San Diego Padres. Although Ray missed this Season due to his passing, you've got to wonder if a small part of him, deep down, would have been rooting for his hometown Cubbies.

Yes, McDonald's is Chicago History, but it's also a global phenomenon. The world's leader in fast food franchises has over 36,500 locations in 119 different countries, serving 69 million total customers daily give or take.

In 1976, McDonald's became the official sponsors of the Olympic Games, and still are to this day. Pretty big huh? Some businesess are lucky enough to sponsor a little league baseball team. Meanwhile, McDonald's has been sponsoring the Olympics since 1968.

In 1965 - McDonald's officially began it's surge into the stock market. It became a publicly traded company & the rest was history. Cash money kind of history.

Some unique facts & dates you may be interested in:

In 1955 - The Des Plaines location had a menu that looked like this:

Hambueger - 15 cents

Cheeseburger - 19 cents

French Fries - 10 cents

Milk - 10 cents

Milk Shakes (Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry) 20 cents

Root Beer - 10 cents

Orangeade - 10 cents

Coca Cola - 10 cents

Coffee - 10 Cents.

That was the whole original menu and had you wanted to the entire menu could all be yours for under $2.

In 1968 an early McDonald's franchisee named Jim Delligatti along with Mr. Kroc debuted the one and only "Big Mac" sandwich. However, the name we all know and know well almost had a different ring to it. There were two previous names that the sandwich was tested under. 1. The Aristocrat & 2. The Blue Ribbon Burger. After proving popular in 1968 it was then sold at all locations for 68 cents.

In 1971, Ronald McDonald made some new friends; "Mayor McCheese" , "Hamburglar" , "Grimace" , the first female character "Birdie the Early Bird" , "Officer Big Mac" , and "Captain Crok." They all became a part of "McDonaldland" and helped gain even more excitement into a restaurant families were growing to love.

In 1975 - McDonald's aimed for a new audience. Rise and shine - it's breakfast time! The "Egg McMuffin" was put onto the menu to help people get their grub on in the Morning hours.

Speaking of McDonald’s fans, here in the United States, McDonald's unveiled the "Happy Meal" in 1979. The most popular item ever included inside the Happy Meal? The TY mini Beanie Babies, which were incredibly popular and sought-after collectibles when they appeared in McDonald’s restaurants in the late 90s.

Here in Chicago, we also collected all sorts of cups with Michael Jordan on them and in the mid 90's there was even a series of Dennis Rodman cups where his hair would change color depending on the temperature & how cool the cup got. Even during the height of sports card collecting McDonald's issued a "collect them all" type series of the 92 men's basketball Olympic "Dream Team" , as well as Chicago Bulls Championship card team sets.

And who can forget when Michael Jordan himself had his own burger named after him? The "McJordan" topped with BBQ sauce and bacon.

In 1987 - McDonald's started to release salads to all customers. Also in 87' - to help gain more of a Dinner atmosphere rather than just breakfast and lunch, McDonald's gave us the moon man himself  "Mac Tonight." "Mac Tonight," A cool character who's job was to make people aware that McDonald's is food for all times of the day or night. It was the point that families and friends could come to McDonald's and all have a memorable Dinner together.

That's the key to all of this, McDonald's = Memories. Memories that will stand the test of time. Memories like we still see in Chicago today, such as the lovable T-Rex Dinosaur named "Sue" at Chicago's Field Museum. Did you know that McDonald's along with Disney helped purchase "Sue" for Chicago? True story.

I dont know about you all, but "I'm lovin' it" as I write this article. Ahh, those three words. The McDonald's "I'm lovin' it" catchphrase kicked off the 2000's in 2003 and it still has an appeal to it that has almost become a part of regular people like us' vocabulary. Riding on a roller coaster at Great America in Gurnee screaming out "I'M LOVIN' IT!" Watching the NFL Draft which just took place in right here at the Auditoreum Theatre in Chicago and having  our Bears select a top wide receiver named Kevin White, then hearing people say "Lovin' It." It's just pure pop culture and total day to day history.

And for some of you who are reading this and saying "Gee, I'd like to look into becoming a McDonald's franchisee now". Well, just like our local sports teams - be prepared to wait. There's a waiting list a magnificent mile long. But the wait, is very much well worth it. McDonald's is a company that is extremely operations focussed, taking pride in every aspect of the company.

Everyone who is lucky enough to purchase a franchise has to start training at Hamburger University in Oak Brook. Even select restaurant Managers across the country and the world have the opportunity to attend courses at the seven global locations. It is there where you will successfully learn the tools of the trade and what it takes to make a McDonald's restaurant run in a way that would make Ray Kroc and his right hand man and former CEO Fred Turner proud 

Fred Turner doesn't get quite the recognition he deserves. He along with Mr. Kroc, helped set the foundation for what the company is today. He's credited with helping massively expand the company and introduce new menu items. He began working the grill in 1956 upon his discharge from the U.S. Army, and was quickly named operations Vice President in 1958. He continued to rise in the ranks and ultimately became the CEO – a post he held from 1974-1987. Archives note: Fred remained deeply involved in the company until his death. He was Chairman of the Board immediately following his retirement, became Senior Chairman until retiring in 2004, and remained Honorary Chairman until his death. Sadly, Fred passed away in January of 2013 in Glenview.

Turner also was on the Board of Directors at other local companies like Baxter International and W.W. Grainger, and the First National Bank Of Chicago.

 While both Ray & Fred are gone, their legacy lives on.

While it is in "pre-production" as of this writing, Michael Keaton who was just nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in "Birdman" is set to play Ray Kroc in John Lee Hancock's "The Founder" which is slated for a 2016 release and supposed to be centered around the man, the myth, the Mac - Ray Kroc.

Hancock preciously released "Saving Mr. Banks" which saw Tom Hanks play Chicago's own Walt Disney.

Also, McDonald's just debuted a new and improved "Hamburglar". Keep an eye out on your cheeseburgers kids!

Chicago is a town that is full of change, but we face it  head on and we adapt to it. One thing that's always been a constant for Chicago and Illinois as a whole is McDonald's. Just like Chicago, McDonald's will be around long after we are all gone and continue creating memories for our future family tree.

As we at Chicago History stood inside the interior building of the very first McDonald's, we must admit here - there were definitely goosebumps running through our Chicago veins. The ora of being in a building like that was magical. Thank you Ray Kroc, for making us believe in magic. Believing that anything is possible. At 52 years young, Ray made a ground breaking move and it all began here, proving that it's never too late to strive for perfection. Don't count the days Chicago, make the days count!

Happy Anniversary McDonald's!


You you can follow us on Twitter at @Chicago_History and follow McDonald's Chicago/Oak Brook area offices at @McDonaldsCorp

Thanks for reading Chicago, your friends at Chicago History.

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