Founded as a modest barbecue shop by brothers Richard and Maurice “Mac” McDonald in 1940, McDonald’s has grown to become synonymous with fast-service food (and car floors littered with paper wrappers). Pioneering preparation techniques have facilitated unimaginable numbers: the company stopped counting customers when they reached 100 billion back in 1994. Have a look at some things you might not know about the Golden Arches
1. McDonald's used to serve peanut butter sandwiches.
Richard and Mac McDonald opened their first location in San Bernardino, California in 1940 using a menu that would seem slightly puzzling today. Though barbecued meat was their specialty, the brothers also served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chili with baked beans, and slices of pie. After noticing most of their sales came from hamburgers, the McDonalds closed for three months in 1948 to retool their menu. They restricted themselves to just nine items, including burgers, drinks, and potato chips. (The pie stayed.)
2. The original McDonald's mascot was dropped because of indigestion.
To mark their 1948 facelift, McDonald’s introduced an official company mascot: Speedee, a burger-faced chef with a bow tie that looked like he was in a perpetual rush. The brothers noted that his round head would make a good base for a lollipop, and decided to hand out Speedee-shaped treats to orphanages and children’s hospitals as a charitable form of advertising. Unfortunately, Speedee seemed a little too similar to Alka-Seltzer mascot Speedy, patron saint of upset stomachs. To avoid confusion, Speedee was retired in 1962.
3. The original Ronald McDonald was fired for being too fat.
After sending Speedee away, McDonald’s latched on to the concept of a spokes-clown. Future Today show weatherman Willard Scott was hired in 1963 after a stint as TV’s Bozo the Clown. By 1966, however, the company had plans to hire duplicate Ronalds to make appearances around the country: Fearing they would be unable to find heavyset actors to match Scott’s stocky build, they let him go. (Today, a full-time svelte Ronald can make roughly $40,000 a year, and is forbidden from disclosing their identity in public.)
4. McDonald's peddles more toys than anyone.
It’s reasonable to think massive chain retailers like Walmart or Target have the toy industry on lockdown, but thanks to their promotional habits, it turns out McDonald’s hands over more toys than any other business on the planet. More than 20 percent of the franchise’s sales come from Happy Meals, which feature a regular rotation of tiny trinkets. In 2013, the company was also poised to become the UK’s largest children’s book distributor when it substituted books for plastic prizes in the meals.
5. There may be a reason Coke tastes better at McDonald's.
Soda snobs have observed that the fountain drinks at McDonald’s locations seem to taste better than anywhere else. The company speculates that could be due to the fact they adhere to Coke’s strict guidelines for serving: the water and syrup mix are pre-chilled before being added to dispensers, and their straws are a little wider than usual so “all that Coke taste can hit your taste buds.”
6. The McDonald's McD.L.T. was a PR nightmare.
Of the company’s many menu gaffes—the McPizza, McSpaghetti, and McHot Dog—the McD.L.T. stands as their greatest cautionary tale. A hamburger that was packaged in a dual-clamshell Styrofoam container to keep the “cool” ingredients (lettuce and tomato) separate from the warm patty, it was roundly criticized for being extremely wasteful and harsh on the environment. It was introduced in the mid-1980s and discontinued in 1990.
7. A change in McDonald's straws once led to problems catching fish.
In a move that would have unforeseen, mackerel-related consequences, McDonald’s shifted their straw design in 1984 from a red-and-yellow color scheme to brown-and-yellow. The problem? Fishermen along the Gulf of Mexico had successfully used the original version to lure Spanish mackerel: Three lures could be made from a single sipper, and caught five times as many fish as any other lure. The new straws failed to attract any catches; McDonald’s dryly advised the distressed fishermen try Big Macs instead.
8. One McDonald's franchisee wanted to serve booze.
In October 1983, a Sierra, California resort McDonald’s owner applied for a local liquor license and inquired about being granted an exception to the company’s no-alcohol policy. His restaurant, located in the adult-heavy tourist community of Mammoth, would have become the first in the United States to serve beer and wine. (Some European Arches were more liberal.) Just a day after the requests were made public, however, the owner withdrew his plans.
9. A rumor about a satanic cult cut into McDonald's profits.
Amid the hysteria over heavy metal and Satanic cults in the 1970s, McDonald’s found themselves having to defend the company against allegations that franchise founder Ray Kroc gave 20 percent of his charitable donations to Satan’s Church in Los Angeles. Initially dismissing it as an amusing rumor, the company saw customers in the Bible Belt of the country take it seriously and refuse to patronize their restaurants. One franchisee in Oklahoma experienced a 20 percent drop in profits. Executives had to travel to clergymen in states like Ohio and Indiana to play Kroc’s recent interviews to prove he had never said such a thing. Though the company hired a full-time employee to investigate the source of the rumor—some speculated it was a rival restaurant chain—it was never found.
10. A bigger McDonald's menu can lead to bigger problems.
While the company’s manual mandates a quick 90-second turnaround time for orders, a constantly revised menu has complicated things considerably. In 2003, corporate introduced the McWrap, a salad inside a tortilla shell: the tortilla needed to be steamed and often wouldn’t fit inside of the driver-friendly packaging. When all-day breakfast was introduced in 2015, eggs and hash browns had to vie for space on the griddles and deep fryers. All of it, disgruntled franchisees claim, contributes to a slower order time.
11. San Francisco banned McDonald's Happy Meals.
In an effort to curb the frenzied pleas of children for a nutritionally bankrupt Happy Meal in order to score the free toy, San Francisco passed an ordinance in 2011 that prohibited the company from peddling the promotion within city limits. To get around the law, the company began charging 10 cents for the toy, skirting around the definition of "free."
12. McDonald's almost landed on an asteroid.
When NASA affiliate company Jet Propulsion Laboratory initiated some ambitious plans to land a spacecraft on an asteroid named Hamburga in the early 1990s, they attempted to partner with McDonald’s to sponsor the trip. The match made in the stars was not to be: the project went over budget, and Hamburga remains un-franchised.
13. It's illegal to open a McDonald's in Bermuda.
In an effort to keep their territory untouched by corporate expansion, Bermuda’s government adopted a Prohibited Restaurants Act in 1977 to keep chains off the island. A McDonald’s did manage to sneak in on a U.S. Naval base in 1985, but was unable to remain after the base closed in 1995.
14. The first expanded McDonald's location is now basically an underwater museum.
When businessman Ray Kroc bought out the McDonald brothers, he opened his first location in Des Plaines, Illinois in 1955. After 29 years, the building was demolished—but the company rebuilt it using the original blueprints to turn it into a monument of their history. Repeat area floods have kept tourists away, though: the interior closed in 2008, leaving McDonald’s fans to take pictures of the outside.
15. There is one location still serving McDonald's Pizza.
In the '80s and early '90s, 40 percent of McDonald's locations sold pizza. The model didn't work. There were too many competitors that could sell pies cheaper, faster, and tastier, and the pizza-making process was slowing down the overall kitchen flow. As of 2015, however, you could still find a version of the pizzas being sold at two locations in the U.S.: one in Pomeroy, Ohio, and one in Spencer, West Virginia. McDonald's corporate reached out to the franchise owner and asked him to stop in 2017, but there is a glimmer of hope for McPizza fans. The Orlando location that touts itself as America's largest McDonald's now serves pies.
16. The Hula Burger was once the company’s answer to Lent.
Before the Filet-O-Fish stole the hearts of Catholics during the Lenten season, McDonald’s attempted to sell them a cheese-topped slice of grilled pineapple on a bun. In a one-day sales showdown, the fish sandwich grossly outperformed the pineapple burger and earned a permanent spot on the menu.
17. There’s a McDonald’s with turquoise arches in Sedona, Arizona.
Because of the natural beauty of the red rocks in Sedona, Arizona, the city has ordinances about how businesses must present themselves. The city agreed to let McDonald’s build in Sedona in 1993, under the condition that the Golden Arches change color to better blend with the natural surroundings. The off-brand hue hasn’t hurt business at all. In fact, tourists flock to dine at the only turquoise-tinted McDonald’s in the world.
18. They invented bubble gum-flavored broccoli.
In 2014, CEO Donald Thompson revealed that Ronald and co. were going to extremes to provide healthier options for kids, included experimenting with broccoli flavors. Instead of the savory pairings you might expect, however, the McDonald’s test kitchen infused the cruciferous veggie with bubble gum flavor. It got as far as focus groups, where kids expressed confusion. The idea withered on the vine, so don’t look for bubble gum broccoli on your dollar menu anytime soon.
19. Americans were so sold on the Quarter Pounder that they refused A&W’s third-pounder.
In the 1980s, A&W decided to make their rivals sweat a little by introducing a third-pound burger at the Quarter Pounder price, giving consumers more bang for their buck. Consumers far preferred the A&W burger in blind taste tests, but the third-pound burger flopped in real life. Post-promotion focus groups revealed the truth: Americans suck at fractions. “Why should we pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as we do for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald's? You're overcharging us,” a quote from the report said. According to A&W owner Alfred Taubman, A&W recalibrated their marketing for the burger. “The customer, regardless of his or her proficiency with fractions, is always right,” he said.
20. The Queen owns a McDonald’s, kind of.
Though it’s dubious that she’s actually eaten there, the Queen’s Crown Estate owns the Banbury Gateway Shopping Park about 80 miles outside of London, and that includes a McDonald’s. While she personally has no ownership, the complex is part of her overall holdings.
21. Ronald McDonald is called Donald McDonald in Japan.
The famous company mascot goes by the name Donarudo Makudonarudo in Japan, which translates to Donald McDonald. The name change was made to flow better with the characters and pronunciation in the Japanese language. Other altered names include Gurimasu for Grimace, Hanbaaguraa for the Hamburglar, and Meiyaa Cheezu Makku for Mayor McCheese.
22. McDonald’s Gold Cards are real.
And they’re spectacular. There are a select few individuals in the world who have access to unlimited food from McDonald’s, or at least free meals at their local establishments. Rob Lowe flashed his on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2015, explaining that he was friends with a franchise-owning family that happened to invent the Egg McMuffin. Warren Buffett has one that provides free food at any McDonald’s in his hometown of Omaha. Buffett also spilled the beans on Bill Gates’ card, which entitles him to eat free anywhere at any Golden Arches in the world. Why rich people need free McDonald's burgers at all remains a mystery.
23. Those in the lower 48 states are never more than 145 miles from McDonald’s.
Data Pointed plotted all 13,000+ McDonald’s locations in the contiguous United States and determined that the nearest McDonald’s is always only a couple of hours away—and typically much closer. The locations furthest from satisfying a Big Mac craving are in the Northwestern Nevada desert (115 miles away as the crow flies) and the “McNothingness” of northwestern South Dakota.
24. The “I’m Lovin’ It” jingle was a real Justin Timberlake tune.
Produced by The Neptunes, including Pharrell Williams, the song was even released as an EP, which was a chart-topper in Belgium. But it’s certainly no coincidence: the “ba da ba buh ba” hook was developed by a small German ad agency, then made into a JT song prior to the release of the ad campaign. This “reverse engineering” method is used to increase the campaign’s credibility.
25. One man has eaten a Big Mac almost every day since 1972.
As of August 24, 2016, Donald Gorske was up to 28,788 Big Macs. When Guinness recognized him for his Big Mac eating achievement at that time, he had only missed eight days in 44 years.
26. Plenty of famous people have worked at McDonald's.
Celebrities who have worked at McDonald’s include Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jay Leno, Pink, and Rachel McAdams. But wait, there’s more: Jeff Bezos loved cracking eggs on Saturday mornings, Pharrell Williams was fired three times, and Shania Twain would go sing in bars after her shifts at McDonald's.
27. In its early days, the company banned female employees.
When they did start hiring women, Ray Kroc specified that they should be “kind of flat-chested” because he didn’t want to attract a crowd of obnoxious teenage boys.
28. The world’s tiniest McDonald’s caters to bees.
In 2019, McDonald’s Sweden worked with the NORD DDB creative agency to build a McDonald’s-branded beehive for World Bee Day. The exterior was a faithful replica of a McDonald’s building, while the inside housed thousands of bees. Additionally, to help stimulate the bee population, some McDonald’s restaurants have installed beehives on their roofs and planted pollinator plants on their grounds.
29. The world’s largest McDonald’s caters to humans.
The world’s largest McDonald’s—the one that still serves pizza—covers nearly 19,000 square feet. Located in Orlando, Florida, the restaurant includes a 22-foot-tall play structure, an animatronic Mac Tonight crooning tunes, a 30-foot Ronald McDonald, and a 2000-square-foot arcade.
30. Mayor McCheese disappeared because of a lawsuit from the makers of H.R. Pufnstuf.
Sid and Marty Krofft alleged that Mayor McCheese was basically H.R. Pufnstuff, and the court agreed. McDonald’s had to pay the Kroffts more than $1 million—$6000 per commercial, $5000 for each promotional item, and $500 for other infringing acts.
31. Bobby Darin's family also sued mcDonald's.
In the 1980s, McDonald’s introduced a crescent moon-headed character named "Mac Tonight," a Bobby Darin wannabe that sang a parody of Mack the Knife. Darin’s family had not been consulted, nor were they flattered, and sued for $10 million. Mac Tonight was retired, which was a bummer for the company; allegedly, the character increased dinnertime sales by more than 10 percent in some restaurants and attracted crowds of 1000-plus during live appearances. (The man who portrayed Mac Tonight in commercials? None other than actor Doug Jones, who is best known for his work with Guillermo del Toro in films like Hellboy (2004), Pan's Labyrinth (2006), and The Shape of Water (2017).
32. Ray Kroc and Walt Disney trained together during WWI.
Kroc and Disney met at a training base in South Beach, Connecticut, where they were learning to be ambulance drivers. Kroc, just 15, later recalled that “Diz” was a “strange duck ... whenever we went into town to chase girls, he stayed in camp drawing pictures.”
33. The world’s only Ski-thru McDonald’s is located in Sweden.
34. McDonald’s is banned in at least 10 countries.
North Korea, Iran, Jamaica, Barbados, Bermuda, Macedonia, Bolivia, Ghana, Zimbabwe and Montenegro are a few of the countries that pass on the fast food, usually for cultural or governmental reasons. It’s rumored that Kim Jung-un desperately wants the Golden Arches, so that list could get shorter in the future.
35. In India, the Big Mac is called the Maharaja Mac.
Made with chicken instead of beef to respect the Hindu belief that cows are sacred, the Maharaja Mac is a chicken double patty, habanero sauce, jalapenos, crunchy fried onions, cheddar cheese and iceberg lettuce.
36. There’s a McBarge floating around somewhere.
Technically, the 187-foot-long McDonald’s restaurant-slash-barge is called the Friendship 500, but “McBarge” is the charming nickname it earned when it debuted at Expo ‘86 in British Columbia. Even after developer Howard Meakin purchased it, the barge sat unused for nearly 30 years—until recently. In 2017, Meakin announced plans to turn the former McDonald’s into a deep-sea museum called the Deep Ocean Discovery Centre.
37. The Big Mac was originally named The Aristocrat.
Franchisee Jim Delligatti introduced the Big Mac at his Pittsburgh-area stores in 1967, originally dubbing it The Aristocrat and the Blue Ribbon Burger. It sold for a mere 45 cents and proved so popular that corporate added it to menus nationwide just a year later. The “Big Mac” moniker was a suggestion from 21-year-old Esther Glickstein, who worked at McDonald’s Corporate in Oak Brook, Illinois.
38. The Shamrock Shake wasn’t originally mint.
It’s hard to imagine, but when the shake debuted in the early ‘70s, it was vanilla ice cream mixed with lemon and lime sherbet. McDonald’s switched to plain old vanilla dyed green for a decade, and finally made the whole thing mint in 1983. (As nature intended.) The shake was hawked by a green version of Grimace, who was named “Uncle O’Grimacey.”
39. The Arch Deluxe is considered to be one of the biggest fast food flops of all time.
In the mid-‘90s, McDonald’s spent a reported $200 million advertising its new Arch Deluxe burger aimed at a more “sophisticated” demographic. Made with fresh beef instead of frozen patties, the burger cost more than other menu items—and people weren’t interested enough to pay for the upgrade. It was rumored that McDonald’s was testing a new version of the burger in select locations last year, so it’s possible that a version of the Arch Deluxe may be resurrected for another round.
40. The McDonald’s Monopoly promotion controversy is being made into a movie.
In 2001, it was revealed that a handful of people had conspired to cheat at McDonald’s annual Monopoly game, taking the company for $24 million over a 12-year time span. The guilty parties were identified by the FBI, and now Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are set to star in a silver screen version of the events. We can’t wait to see who plays Rich Uncle Pennybags.
41. Fans demanded the return of Szechuan sauce—and got it.
McDonald’s added a spicy Szechuan sauce to their dip lineup in the 1990s as a promotional tie-in for Disney’s Mulan movie. After the fabled sauce re-entered the spotlight thanks to mentions on the adult cartoon Rick and Morty, fans petitioned the company to bring it back. McDonald’s obliged with a one-day-only event, which only made fans angrier. Faced with consumer backlash, McDonald’s issued a statement vowing to bring it back more permanently, and in February 2018, they distributed 20 million Szechuan packets to stores across the country.