From barbecue to billions and billions served: McDonald’s turns 75

On May 15, 1948, the McDonald brothers opened their revamped restaurant in San Bernardino. Over the past 75 years, McDonald’s has become the largest fast-food chain in the world.

Dick and Mac McDonald came to California to seek opportunities in the movie business and wound up owning a drive-in BBQ restaurant in San Bernardino. In 1948, they took a risk by streamlining their operations and introducing their Speedee Service System featuring hamburgers. The restaurant’s success led the brothers to begin franchising their concept.

Dick McDonald explained their system this way, “Our whole concept was based on speed, lower prices and volume.” The Speedee Service System was what made their hamburger stand so cutting edge and allowed them to cook up 40 patties in 110 seconds and get a meal to a customer in 20 seconds.

Most popular fast-food companies

It’s indisputable that McDonald’s is America’s favorite fast food restaurant, if not the world’s. McDonald’s sales are almost double the second-place restaurant’s, Starbucks, totaling $46 billion compared to the coffee shop’s $24 billion.

U.S. total stores in 2021

Subway 21,147
Starbucks 15,450
McDonald’s 13,438
Dunkin’ 9,244
Burger King 7,105
Taco Bell 7,002
Domino’s 6,560
Pizza Hut 6,548
Wendy’s 5,938
Dairy Queen 4,339

Source: QSR Magazine

In 1963, the clown Ronald McDonald was introduced. The clown has been sidelined due to the negative perception of marketing to children. In 1967, McDonald’s opened its first franchise outside the U.S. in Richmond, British Columbia.

There are more than 22,000 McDonald’s in 100 different countries outside the U.S.

McDonald’s moved beyond the hamburger business by acquiring Chipotle Mexican Grill (1998), Donatos Pizza (1999), and Boston Market (2000) in the U.S.

For related news, see: Why McDonald’s play places have disappeared

How fast is fast food?

McDonald’s continues to place an emphasis on speed when it comes to selling its burgers. A hamburger, for example, can be cooked and fully assembled on average in 112 seconds.

According to McDonald’s corporate, if there are no other orders, a customer should be able to have a Quarter Pounder on their tray in 180 seconds, with 122 of those seconds being the patty’s cooking time.

How many sold?

McDonald’s stopped counting years ago and now signs that have a total usually say billions served or billions and billions served. Figuring out just how many hamburgers they sell by the second seems like a near-impossible exercise, but according to Business Insider, someone figured it out.

In 2013, the fast food giant was reportedly moving around 75 burgers every second. This burger data roughly breaks down as 4,500 burgers every minute, 270,000 every hour, 6.48 million every day and 2.36 billion burgers every year in the U.S.

Other estimates have put McDonald’s global burger sales at 50 million a day.

McDonald’s menu timeline

In 1940, Dick and Mac McDonald opened McDonald’s Barbecue in San Bernardino, the first McDonald’s restaurant. The restaurant, a drive-in with carhop service, would lead to the largest chain in the world.

The very first McDonald’s menu was large. However, in 1948, the McDonald brothers reduced the restaurant’s offerings down to just nine items.

The original items in 1948 were:

Hamburger, 15 cents
Cheeseburger, 19 cents
French fries, 10 cents
Milk, 10 cents
Milkshakes, 20 cents
Root beer, 10 cents
Orangeade, 10 cents
Coca Cola, 10 cents
Coffee, 10 cents

In 2013, McDonald’s had 145 items on its menu.

In April 1955, Ray Kroc launched McDonald’s Systems Inc., later known as McDonald’s Corp., in Des Plaines, Illinois, and there he also opened the first McDonald’s franchise east of the Mississippi River. In 1961, Kroc bought out the McDonald brothers for $2.7 million.

Who eats fast food?

A 2018 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study looked at who eats fast food and how often. The study surveyed adults on whether they ate at a fast-food or pizza restaurant over the previous 24-hour period. The graphics show the percentage of adults who eat fast food “any given day.”

Castles, kings and colonels

A timeline of American chains (not all listed)

1921: White Castle opens the first fast-food hamburger stand in Wichita, Kansas.

1925: Roy W. Allen and Frank Wright decide to franchise their A&W root beer stands, which first opened in Lodi in 1919.

1930: Harland Sanders begins Kentucky Fried Chicken, the first fast food chicken chain.

1937: Vernon Rudolph launches Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, a doughnut company and coffeehouse chain in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

1940: Brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald create their “Speedee Service System” and incorporate it in their restaurants, called McDonald’s.

1940: John Fremont McCullough, the inventor of soft-serve ice cream, opens the fist Dairy Queen in Joliet, Illinois.

1946: Dave Barham opens the first Party Puffs in Santa Monica, which is later renamed Hot Dog on a Stick.

1948: In-N-Out opens. Harry and Esther Snyder‘s Baldwin Park joint is the first drive-thru hamburger stand.

1948: Bill Rosenberg of Quincy, Massachusetts, opens Dunkin’ Donuts.

1951: Robert O. Peterson founds Jack in the Box in San Diego. It is one of the first drive-thru chains to use an intercom system.

1954: James McLamore and David R. Edgerton Jr. open their first Insta-Burger-King restaurant in Miami, which later becomes Burger King.

1956: The first two Carl‘s Jr. restaurants are built in Anaheim and Brea. They are called Carl’s Jr. because they are smaller than Carl and Margaret Karcher‘s full-service restaurant, Carl’s Drive-In Barbecue.

1961: John Galardi starts with one Wienerschnitzel hot dog stand in Wilmington, California, then builds the largest hot dog chain in the United States, with more than 360 outlets.

1961: Brothers Tom and James Monaghan buy DomiNick’s pizza store in Ypsilanti, Michigan. It later becomes Domino’s.

1962: Glen Bell opens the first Taco Bell in Downey.

1964: Brothers Forrest and Leroy Raffell open the first Arby’s in Boardman, Ohio.

1964: The first Casa Del Taco is opened by Ed Hackbarth and David Jameson in Yermo. The name is eventually shortened to Del Taco.

1965: Frederick DeLuca of Bridgeport, Connecticut, opens a sandwich shop that later becomes Subway.

1969: Dave Thomas founds Wendy’s in Columbus, Ohio.

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1971: The first Starbucks store opens in Seattle.

1972: The first Chicken on the Run opens in Louisiana. It fails but owner Al Copeland rebrands it as Popeyes Mighty Good Chicken and starts what is now the second-largest fast-food chicken chain.

1977: Chuck E. Cheese opens, called Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theater, in San Jose.

Sources: Smithsonian,,, restaurant websites, Business Insider,

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