The story behind the story you may not know.



In Missing Boy. my protagonist Spencer Manning talks about the first McDonald’s, in Des Plaines, IL. He relates an incident that happened to him when he was a kid – and did actually happen to me. The history of the McDonald’s brothers is unknown to most people ordering a Big Mac.

In the grips of the Great Depression, Richard and Maurice left New Hampshire and headed to California with dreams of becoming millionaires as Hollywood producers. Having no success, they opened a drive-in restaurant, McDonald’s BBQ, in San Bernardino in 1940, just a few blocks from Route 66.

The featured item was slow-cooked BBQ with fries for thirty-five cents. They expanded to a rather eclectic menu that included hamburgers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Female carhops served food and the business took off with sales soon hitting $200,000 a year. The brothers soon realized that, though they were pushing BBQ, their biggest sales item was burgers.

The nation's first McDonald's Restaurant
The nation’s first McDonald’s Restaurant

Deciding to streamline, they fired the carhops, switched to plastic utensils and cups so they didn’t need a dishwasher, and changed the menu to just burgers, with drinks and potato chips and pie. Copying Henry Ford’s assembly line, they developed the “Speedee Service System.” Each employee had a task, and customers were not given choices. Burgers, with a lowered price of fifteen cents, came with ketchup, mustard, onions, and two pickles. Anyone who wanted something different would have to wait.

They changed potato chips to french fries and added milkshakes and, by the 1950s, profits had more than doubled. A milkshake mixer salesman couldn’t understand why the brothers needed eight of his Multi-Mixers for one location. One mixer made six shakes at once. The salesman was Ray Kroc who lived in Arlington Hts., Illinois. After looking over the operation, he bought the rights to franchise the restaurants and opened the first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, IL, in 1955. The brothers didn’t think the self-service approach would work in colder and rainy climates.

Rich Polad
Rich Polad

The relationship between the brothers and Kroc was contentious as changes Kroc wanted to make were not approved by the brothers. Kroc bought them out in 1961 for 2.7 million. To Kroc’s dismay, the brothers kept their original restaurant and renamed it “Big M” with the golden arches on the marquis shaped like a giant letter M. Kroc opened a McDonald’s around the corner and drove them out of business.

The original restaurant in Des Plaines was demolished in 1984, the year Ray Kroc died, and the next year a museum replica was built on the site. The rest is, well… history.


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