During the 1950s and this first era of rock n roll, Americans loved their cars and they were on the move. The McDonald brothers understood that, and brought us fast food. Here’s a little bit of their story.
Dick and Maurice (Mac) McDonald left New Hampshire to seek their fortunes in California in 1930. They tried the movie industry but had little success. They opened a movie theater but that went bust. In 1937, they started a hot dog stand at Santa Anita racetrack, and that did well but racing was not year round. With a little financing from Bank of America, they opened a drive-in restaurant in San Bernardino, CA – the kind with carhops. That was successful.
The brothers wanted to serve customers quickly because it made more money, but also they understood on some level that America was speeding up. Where people lived and worked was changing; they moved to the suburbs and commuted to work. Families didn’t want to sit only at the kitchen or dining room table; they wanted to watch in front of the TV, have a backyard party, or give Mom a night off (if it was cheap). The country was on the move.
Dick and Mac automated the restaurant the way Ford automated the manufacture of cars. Carhops slowed things down because the doo-wopping teenagers in leather jackets flirted with them, so the brothers decided on a store without carhops. They also realized that they sold mostly hamburgers (about 80% of the sales). So they pared down the menu; there were no more sandwiches, hot dogs, and labor-intensive barbecue. They replaced plates and silverware with paper bags, wrappers, and paper cups; that eliminated dishwashing. They had machines built that made hamburgers the same size and squirted the same amount of mustard and ketchup on each one. Their sign for McDonald’s Famous Hamburgers had the price, which was 15 cents, larger than the name of the store. Fast, inexpensive food.