History Timeline 1950's

Photo above: A race to the moon. Right: Allegheny Ludlum Steel Company, Pennsylania, 1940-1946, U.S. Office of War Information. Courtesy Library of Congress.

United States Steel Mills

U.S. Timeline - The 1950s

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  • Timeline

  • Detail - 1954

    In 1954, Ray Kroc founds the idea for the McDonald's corporation, agreeing to franchise the idea of Dick and Mac McDonald, who had started the first McDonald's restaurant in 1940 and had eight restaurants by 1954. Kroc would incorporate the entity on March 2, 1955 and open his first franchise on April 15 in Des Plaines, Illinois. He would buy out the McDonald's brothers in 1961.

    McDonald's Oldest Remaining Franchise Store

    For many, they think the April 15, 1955 opening of Ray Kroc's first franchise in Illinois, was the most important date in the ethos of what would become today's McDonald's food franchise icon. But, with no disrespect meant to the 1940 founding of the first store by the McDonald's brothers or that first Kroc franchise, there was a meeting in 1954, on an unknown summer date, that married the two other dates together in an even more important way.

    In 1954, Ray Kroc was a salesman for the Multi-Mixer milkshake machine that could make two milkshakes at a time. It had been his job for a bit, and placing these machines in restaurants throughout California his territory. One day he noticed that there was an order for eight at a store in San Bernidino, California, and it intrigued him. What restaurant would ever need machines that could make sixteen shakes at a time? Just how much business were they doing? So Ray Kroc got in his car and went for a road trip. What he saw amazed him. At the McDonald Brother's, Richard and Maurice's, San Bernidino restaurant, business boomed on a short menu with low prices and a quick turnaround time; it was hamburgers, cheeseburgers, shakes, fries, and sodes. He met with the brothers and formed a bond; the brothers needed a new franchise salesman. They had eight stores by this time. Kroc wanted part of what he saw as an amazing future for this quick service system. In the future the bond would become shaky, but now, he and they wanted to work together.

    How the McDonald's Brothers Restaurants Began?

    Richard and Maurice McDonald had moved to California in the late 1930's, working in the motion picture industry as set-movers and handymen. In 1940, the two brothers borrowed five thousand dollars from Bank of America and opened up a drive-in hot dog and barbecue restaurant, McDonald's Bar-B-Que, in San Bernidino, California. Their father had run a small hot dog stand in Monrovia since 1937, but the brothers desired a bigger location in a larger town. To their surprise, the stand became widely popular; they made $40,000 per year, a substantial sum after the decade of depression. By 1948, however, they decided to remodel the first restaurant and focus on quicker service, hamburgers (pre-cooked), potato chips, apple pie, and drinks. By 1949, the potato chips and apple pie were swapped out for milkshakes and french fries. The new restaurant and system were even more popular.

    By 1953, the brothers began franchising their business. The second franchise opened in Phoenix, Arizona. The third in Downey, California. The Downey location is the oldest remaining store. Eventually, they sold their name along with the franchise and a restaurant design that included the famous Golden Arches that looked like an M, after the first initial of their last name. By the time of their first meeting with Ray Kroc, they had eight restaurants themselves, and had sold twenty-one franchises.

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    Ray Kroc, First Franchise, and Buying the Brothers Out

    Within a year of their first meeting, Ray Kroc franchised the methods and success of the McDonald's brothers with his own and franchised restaurants. With a desire to replicate the system, style, and taste of each restaurant's limited menu, he opened up his first franchise on April 15, 1955, in the midwest, Des Plaines, Illinois, part of the territory he had carved out to franchise across the United States while allowing the brothers full access to their California and Arizona territories they'd already established. He set up a corporation called McDonald's and sold franchises over the next six years. In 1958, there were thirty-four. In 1959, there were one hundred and two.

    For the first six years of their partnership, Kroc and the McDonald's took a percentage of each franchise's profits. Kroc got 1.9% and gave 0.5% of that back to Dick and Mac McDonald. There developed a rift between the partners, with Kroc's vision much larger than that of the brothers. Kroc offered to buy them out and paid $2.7 million, which he borrowed, to become principal owner of what is today's multi-billion dollar company, McDonald's, in 1961 with the assistance of Harry Sonneborn, a former Vice President of Tastee-Freeze and later President of the McDonald's Corporation. By 1965, with Sonneborn's expertise in real estate and location, McDonald's had seven hundred stores in the United States.

    Today, McDonald's has 37,241 restaurants (2017) in 120 nations, and grossed over 22 billion in sales (2017). So what had become one BBQ store of the McDonald's brothers, and one franchise for Ray Kroc, had now become a worldwide, 2nd biggest employer in the world. One interesting fact about Kroc; he served in the same regiment in World War I as Walt Disney, and even tried to get a McDonalds into Disneyland in its first year. Kroc refused the offer when Disney wanted a price increase in the fries to give him a bigger profit.

    Image above: McDonald's oldest remaining franchise store, the third built in 1953, located in Downey, California, 2007, Bryan Hong. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Below: More updated version of the McDonald's brand store in Azusa, California, 1979, John Margolis. Courtesy John Margolis Roadside America Collection at the Library of Congress. Source Info: "McDonald's Opens its First Franchise Restaurant in Illinios," Rhys Lewis, 2018, BT.com; McDonalds.com History; "The True Origin Story Behind McDonald's," David Brancaccio, 2017, Marketplace.org; "Ray Kroc and the McDonald's Phenomenom," Dan Dazkowski, 2018, thebalancemb.com; mcdonalds.fandom.com; "The Real McDonald's: The San Bernadino Origins of a Fast Food Empire," Hadley Meares, 2016, kcet.org; Wikipedia Commons.


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