Richard and Maurice McDonald revolutionized the way that billions of people around the world eat – and produce – fast food.
The business they started in the 1930s as a hot dog stand near a racetrack is now valued at over $110 billion with more than 36,000 locations in over 100 countries around the world.
But McDonald’s wouldn’t be the global force it is today if not for the man who bought the family business and turned it into an empire.
The Founder, starring Michael Keaton, tells the story of Ray Kroc, a one-time traveling salesman who joined McDonald’s as a franchise agent and then bought the brothers out and turned it into the most successful fast food company in the world. Here are 11 things to know about McDonald’s surprising history:
- It all started with hot dogs
The company’s original founders, Richard and Maurice McDonald, opened a hot dog stand near the Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia, California, in the late 1930s, the New York Times reports. In 1940, they opened a drive-in barbecue restaurant in San Bernardino, California, that they transformed into a burger joint in 1948.
- One in every 8 American workers has been employed by a McDonald’s
According to the 2001 book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, nearly one in eight workers in the U.S. have worked at a McDonald’s at one point in their lives.
- The original Ronald McDonald was let go because of his weight
Today weatherman Willard Scott portrayed the original Ronald McDonald, then known as “the Hamburger-happy clown” in a commercial that debuted in 1963.
Scott’s depiction of Ronald McDonald was such a hit that in 1966 the company hatched plans to cast doubles who could make appearances nationwide. Uncertain they’d be able to find a large group of potential Ronalds with Scott’s stocky build, the company let the original Ronald go and cast Bev Bergeron, who played Ronald in TV ads until 1968.
- McDonald’s is the world’s largest distributor of toys
Happy Meals – and the toys that accompany them – make up 20 percent of McDonalds sales. The Happy Meal has included a toy of some sort since it first debuted with a meal built around a 600-calorie burger in 1977.
- McDonald’s Hamburger University can be harder to get into than Harvard
The first Hamburger University was founded in the basement of a McDonald’s in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, in 1961, according to the company’s website. To date, more than 275,000 people have graduated from the training program that is offered at seven campuses worldwide in places like Tokyo, Munich, Shanghai and of course Illinois, where it all began.
The campus in Shanghai accepts less than 1 percent of applicants for each term, according to Bloomberg – Harvard University’s acceptance rate is 5.9 percent.
- The company’s original founders sold McDonald’s for $2.7 million
The McDonald brothers had sold 21 franchises by 1954, when they hired then milkshake mixer salesman Ray Kroc to be their franchise agent. Over the next five years, Kroc launched more than 200 additional locations and then bought the entire business from the brothers for $2.7 million in 1961, the BBC reports.
- It was once thought to be a harbinger of peace
Economist Thomas Friedman’s Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention posited that globalization is a step towards peace, citing the fact that no two countries with branches of McDonald’s had gone to war as evidence. This record was broken in 1999 when NATO and U.S. planes bombed Serbia, then home to seven McDonald’s locations.
- Some of its salads have more calories than the burgers
The Southwest Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Salad has 520 calories – more than double the amount of calories in a classic hamburger (250). For comparison, the salad also has more calories than a double cheeseburger (430) and McDouble (380).
- Locations outside the U.S. offer some seriously out-there foods
In Colombia, you can try the Pineapple Oreo McFlurry and in China you can wake up with the sausage and egg twisty pasta breakfast. McDonald’s opened its first meat-free restaurant in the northern Indian city of Amritsar, which is home to a Sikh temple where meat is banned, the Week reports.
- If you live in the lower 48 United States, you’re never more than 115 miles away from a McDonald’s
According to Data Pointed, no matter where you are in the continental U.S., you’re never more than 115 miles away from a McDonald’s location. The farthest point away from any McDonald’s location (AKA the McFarthest Spot) is a patch of desert in Northern Nevada near the Sheldon National Antelope Refuge.
- Onion McNuggets almost made the menu
In 1983, chicken McNuggets debuted on the menu after taste tests confirmed that consumers preferred chicken to onion, according to Parade.