1950's Fifties Food          


When Food Became Fast!

McDonald Brothers revolutionize burger biz after automobile innovator. 

By Chris Wood

In 1954, a salesman named Ray Kroc was selling a machine called the Multimixer that could mix five milkshakes at once. By that time, brothers Dick and Maurice (Mac) McDonald had successfully franchised eight McDonald restaurant locations in the southern California area that showcased their fast method (Speedee) of providing mass produced hamburgers for 15 cents (half of what they cost in average diners at the time) each, French fries, Coca-Cola soda, coffee, and milkshakes. 

During a sale with the brothers, Kroc became intrigued with this fast food process and asked the two brothers to permit him to franchise the McDonald’s fast food restaurants outside of California. With permission granted by the brothers McDonald, Kroc opened his first outlet in a Chicago, Illinois suburb called, Des Plaines. Four years later, the company sold its 100 millionth hamburger.

Though, it should be noted that the idea, or the process of fast food in America, was actually a turn of the 20th Century concept. On July 7, 1912, a cafeteria styled eatery at Broadway and 13th Street in New York City called, the Automat, prepared foods behind small glass windows with coin operated slots which popularized the idea of “take-out” food. 

In fact, White Castle is generally considered to be the first “fast food” restaurant, founded in 1921 by Billy Ingram and Walt Anderson who offered inexpensive hamburgers and French fries sold by the sack. At a nickel a burger, it was a very popular product during the Great Depression.

But it was the McDonald brother’s streamlined production method, they named the “Speedee Service System,” that was influenced by the production line innovations of Henry Ford, which interested a milkshake mixer salesman (Kroc). 

The limited menu allowed for the preproduction of the products which offered immediate consumption by the customer. And without any traditional seating arrangements, consumers could walk right up to the service window, place their order, and enjoy a hamburger, fries and a Coke with ease. 

However, Kroc, who bought the entire McDonald’s operation outright in 1961, was the architect behind making it a nationwide chain (currently global). He first promoted cleanliness in the restaurants and frequently took part in spraying clean garbage cans with a hose and scraping gum up off the parking lot area at his own Des Plaines location. 

In addition, Kroc also made it very easy for customers to view the food preparation (i.e., no walls between the cooks and the counter where patrons placed their orders). 

This was important to a germ conscious America and advertised a policy that stated the restaurant had nothing to hide from its patrons. For the most part, though, Kroc was technically reinventing the wheel after White Castle. But he was able to take the “fast food” techniques to a much greater level of success than had ever been seen before during the 1950s and 1960s 

McDonalds, however successful (200 chain restaurants across America by 1960), was not without its competitors, like Burger King, which first opened in Miami, Florida in 1954. 

Burger King presented larger burgers (hence the name) and coined the phrase, “have it your way,” permitting customers to choose their own burger toppings. The 1960’s saw the emergence of specific fare like the Mexican styled Taco Bell franchise in 1962, created by WWII veteran Glen Bell.

Innovation closed out the 1960s in 1969 when Dave Thomas, founder of the Wendy’s Old Fashioned hamburger franchise, created the drive up window where customers could drive up alongside the restaurant, pay, and receive their food orders without ever getting out of their cars. This became functional in 1970.

Today, there are hundreds of fast food companies on nearly every street corner in America. They have rolled with the punches as Americans have become more health conscience with salads, fruit, diet drinks, reduced fat, low fat, and low calorie products and will certainly continue to stand up to the test of time transforming and tailoring its products to meet the needs of its customers in an expeditious manner. But the explosion of the industry happened during the 1950s and 1960s.

more articles by Chris Wood

Go to Rewind the Fifties Home







Rewind the Fifties and all related Pages copyright 1997 - 2007