Hello, everyone and welcome to Let’s Read An Old Menu! This is another in a weekly series looking at restaurant, hotel kitchen, and lunch counter menus from the 19th and 20th centuries. Sometimes things will be familiar, sometimes they’ll be weird. But one thing you can count on is that they’ll almost always have cottage cheese on the menu, and they’ll almost never actually explain what’s in anything.
What’s For Lunch?
This time we’re going on a field trip through time and space, like a bunch of little
Mac and Mes The Doctors, to chart the culinary evolution of the world’s largest fast-food franchise. Welcome to McDonald’s!
Is The Restaurant Still–
Come on, you know what the fuck McDonald’s is.
Originally a highly successful barbecue drive-in in San Bernardino, California, McDonald’s was swindled from founders Dick and Mac McDonald by milkshake-machine salesman Ray Kroc, who moved operations to his home state of Illinois and reorganized it into the world-wide fast-food franchise that would revolutionize almost every part of the restaurant industry, eventually becoming the second-largest private employer in the entire world, behind only Wal-Mart. Today McDonald’s operates in almost every city in America as well as over 100 foreign countries. It is worth nearly $33 billion (as of 2018.) We’ve all eaten there despite the fact that almost no one actually likes eating there, we’ve all re-enacted the Royale With Cheese scene from Pulp Fiction dozens of times. McDonald’s is a fixture of public life and I have nothing new to say about it. But I have lots to say that’s old about it!
This is it, the original McDonald’s menu! More specifically this is the menu for McDonald’s Bar-B-Que, the original San Berdoo restaurant operated by the McDonald brothers. You’ll notice that it contains many items that you might otherwise never think to associate with McDonalds, including actual (if not probably terribly authentic, if my experiences of southern California decades later are anything to go on) barbecue– the “classic” McDonald’s menu, which we’ll be seeing a lot of today, only came about in 1948, when Dick and Mac noticed that their burgers outsold every other menu item they offered put together, and simplified the menu down to just eight items– hamburgers, cheeseburgers, potato chips, coffee, Coke, orange pop, root beer, and apple pie. The pie and chips would be swapped out for fries and shakes about a year after.
This is the opening day menu for the first McDonald’s east of the Mississippi– Ray Kroc’s first store. It’s little-known, but the McDonald brothers had already begun franchising their brand before Kroc entered the picture in 1955. By that time milk had been added to the menu, and the signature “Golden Arches” design had been adopted, first appearing at the first out-of-state McDonald’s (located in Phoenix) in 1953.
No change to the menu by 1961, but giving every menu item a little adjective like this is extremely charming, and just look at this graphic design! By 1959 there were 102 McDonalds restaurants around the US. By 1961 the McDonald Brothers would be out of the company entirely.
Here we have an order slip from the 60s! The logo at this point is much more clearly a stylized depiction of the restaurant itself, slanted roof and all. The specific date is unclear but must be sometime between 1965, when the Filet-O-Fish was first added to the national menu, and 1968, when the logo was revised to remove the “roof” and the overlap between the arches. (The McDouble is also new, having been introduced in 1964. Hot cocoa is new too, but I don’t have a date for that. Shame, we could probably narrow it down further if I did.)
Adding a fish sandwich was the idea of Cincinnati franchiser Lou Groen, who hoped to increase his business with Catholic customers. Kroc was reportedly incensed with the addition, disliking the smell of fish and wanting to push his own idea for a new menu item, the Hula Burger– a grilled slice of pineapple, two slices of cheese, and a toasted bun. The fish sandwich ultimately sold better during a test run on Good Friday of 1962, at a final tally of 350 to 6.
Ronald McDonald was introduced in 1963, originally with a very different look, played by Willard Scott in three TV ads for Washington DC franchiser Oscar Goldstein. Scott had been Washington’s local incarnation of Bozo the Clown from 1959 to 1962, and he and Goldstein created Ronald when Bozo owner Larry Harmon did not allow him to use Bozo in the ads. The now-familiar red wig and yellow jumpsuit design was introduced by veteran clown Michael Polakovs, aka Coco the Clown, when McDonalds took the character nationwide in 1965.
This is also the time when McDonalds went public, in 1965. Shares at IPO were $22.50, by the end of the first day they had hit $30.
Another 60s-era order slip. This one was dated to 1968, but is probably actually from 1967. You can see a few interesting things on this one. McDonalds offered an Arby’s-style roast beef sandwich from 1967 to 1970. I say it’s probably older than the given date because 1968 marked the introduction of the Big Mac, which you’ll notice is not yet present. Apple pie, now in the familiar rectangular form, returned to the menu the same year.
By 1968, McDonalds had opened it’s 1,000th restaurant. By 1969, they had sold their five billionth burger, and the golden-arch store design was on its way out in favor of a new look with gabled roofs and, for the first time, indoor seating.
The 70s were the time when the McDonald’s brand began to reach the form familiar to us today. I found this menu dated to 1972, but based on the presence of the Quarter Pounder and the absence of any mention of Egg McMuffins (introduced in 1975), I believe it must in fact be from 1973 or 4. I wish I could have got one from a little earlier, during my research I learned that McDonalds’ first experiment with chicken– in the form of fried chicken, no less– occurred for a few months in 1971. That’d be a trip to see. Other new additions during this time period include ice cream cones and some new shake flavors– here we see coffee, but March of 1970 was the inaugural season for my all-time favorite McDonald’s menu item, the Shamrock Shake.
Around the same time as the Affair of the Chicken, McDonalds finally had a foothold in all fifty US states, as well as Canada and Australia. The UK, Sweden, France, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, and San Salvador would also see their first McDonalds before 1975, and by the end of the decade Ireland, Switzerland, Austria, the Bahamas, Brazil, Nicaragua, and New Zealand were part of the club too (Kroc was reportedly highly resistant to New Zealand.) Enjoy this article from a 1972 Sydney Morning Herald, complete with menu, as well as a (somewhat blurry) opening day menu from the first UK store– their 3000th restaurant overall.
The famous “You Deserve a Break Today” ad campaign also began in 1971. I still love this ad and I wish they’d do an update of it. (I think the emphasis on cleanliness would probably read like they’re trying to cover their asses to modern audiences, though.) McDonalds’ advertising agency, Needham, Harper, and Steers, also developed the McDonaldland ad campaign around the same time. Both campaigns would last until around 1977, with the latter being the subject of a lawsuit from Sid and Marty Krofft that resulted in the phasing out and replacement of several of its characters. The remaining characters, along with new ones like Birdie and the McNugget Buddies, would continue to see use until 2003. Since then only Ronald has appeared regularly, but the whole gang still appear in McDonaldland Cookies where available
. Speaking of Ronald, the first Ronald McDonald House, a charity providing lodgings to families who have had to spend time away from their homes due to their children requiring hospitalization, was opened in Philadelphia in 1974, at the behest of Ray Kroc. By 1986, over 100 had opened around the US. Today 366 operate worldwide.
In 1977 the breakfast menu would be expanded from just Egg McMuffins, coffee, and milk to include the Sausage McMuffin, the Sausage and Egg McMuffin, Hotcakes, scrambled eggs, Hash Browns, and the Big Breakfast. In 1979 the Happy Meal was introduced. 1979 also saw two more shortlived experiments: the McPizza and the chopped beefsteak sandwich, an oblong burger topped with sliced onions and steak sauce available only in the evening, which was removed from the menu in 1981.
McDonald’s first opened a drive-thru window in 1975, testing the concept in Sierra Vista, Arizona to allow soldiers at the nearby Fort Huachuca army base to order during their lunch breaks without breaking Army regulations that forbade wearing BDUs off-base except while operating a vehicle. By 1978, the 5000th McDonalds would open in Enoshima, Japan, and the 15,000th graduate of Hamburger University, McDonalds’ training program for managers and franchisers, had passed through its tallowed halls.
Here’s a drive-thru menu. It’s dated to 1984 and I see no reason to doubt that. The 80s was a fairly experimental time for McDonald’s. They tried again with chicken, twice– the McChicken sandwich was initially a flop in 1980 and was replaced in 1983 by Chicken McNuggets, the first widely available chicken nuggets, which had been an optional item sold by an increasing number of franchises from 1979 onwards. They also experimented with pork, introducing the McRib in 1981 to initially poor sales that were only rescued when its removal led to it becoming a cult item. The McChicken and McRib would both be reintroduced late in the decade. The perpetual laughing stock known as the McDLT began its brief life in 1985, and the McPizza returned to eke out a few more years in 1986, alongside the last staple of the modern McDonalds menu to be introduced: Salads. (If you look at the Mac and Me screencap in the header, you can see them on the left, as well as side salads listed on the menu just to Mac’s right.) My other favorite menu item, the Sausage Biscuit, was also added in 1986 and is visible on the Mac and Me screencap on the far right.
Since we’re now in living memory for most Avocadoans, I think I’ll cut it off here. Join us next time when hopefully I’ll write something a little shorter about like… Trader Vic’s or the Titanic or something, hell if I know.