Friday, February 16, 2007

Golden Arches

Dick McDonald, co-founder (with brother Mac) of the original McDonald's drive-in fast-food hamburger stand in 1948, was born on this day in 1909.

Brothers Dick and Mac McDonald were tired of paying car hops and dishwashers at the hamburger restaurant they owned in 1940, so on the eve of the car boom in suburban Southern California, they designed a new kind of restaurant, with a small standardized menu, unprecedentedly fast service (under a minute), low prices (15-cent hamburgers, 10-cent french fries), no waitresses and no tipping -- fast food, to go, for a go-go-go culture. By 1952, the reborn McDonald's restaurant was so successful that it was featured on the cover of American Restaurant magazine and could boast 6 million hamburgers sold.

Mac, as operations chief, came up with the idea for a no-frills burger assembly line (inspired ultimately by Henry Ford's assembly line for the Model T) that came to be McDonald's, just as Henry Ford's vision of a car-clogged American countryside was coming to fruition after World War II.

While Mac was designing the burger assembly line, Dick was the marketing whiz. Dissatisfied with an architect's rendering of the proposed restaurant, Dick sketched the "M" which became the world famous "golden arches" -- at once historically the symbol for money used by Karl Marx as well as the symbol for "millions," now erected in bright yellow neon around the world, transformed into a symbol for American economic imperialism by the end of the 20th century as McDonald's marched triumphantly into 91 countries.

Before that could happen, though ... in 1955, Ray Kroc bought the rights to franchise and develop McDonald’s drive-ins in the U.S., and in 1961 came back for the entire package – trademarks, test secrets, and the McDonald’s system, along with the worldwide franchise rights -- for $2.7 million. The McDonald brothers kept their original store in San Bernardino, renaming it Mac's Place (since they no longer owned their own name), but the restaurant was eventually put out of business by the megalomaniacal Kroc, who opened a McDonald's across the street.

For his own part, Dick McDonald never seemed to mind the fact that $2.7 million in hindsight looked like a discount price, or the closing of his San Bernardino place -- what he minded was the rewriting of history: "Suddenly, after we sold," said McDonald, "my golly, he elevated himself to the founder."

Dick McDonald died on July 14, 1998 in Manchester, New Hampshire.

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