It’s fair to say a good many people know the story of how the McDonald brothers, the owners of a California barbecue eatery, pioneered the fast food industry in the early 1950s. Further, that Ray Kroc, a milkshake machine salesman, partnered with the brothers to franchise the first McDonald’s in other states. Ultimately, Kroc bought the company from the brothers and took the brand to the international level that it operates on today.
For Mister Boomer, McDonald’s was not a regular part of his boomer days, though the ethos of the chain had seeped into his suburban neighborhood early on. The burgers were more of a novelty and not all that special. Plus, Mister Boomer and his siblings, certainly in the late 1950s and early 1960s, ate every meal at home, except for Sunday dinners at his grandparents. As nearly as Mister B can recall, the only local McDonald’s was around a mile from his home. It had all the hallmarks of the early franchises, including the slanted roof building sporting the golden arches. This look, according to Mister B’s research, dates the building somewhere between 1960 and 1963. As a kid, Mister B was mesmerized by the brightness of those arches, while the surrounding area was quite dark. They made the building glow and lit up the sky so it was visible from blocks away.
Yet what fascinated Mister Boomer as much or more than the golden arches was the sign out front. When returning from the usual Sunday visits to his grandparents, his father drove by the McDonald’s on the way home. That gave Mister B a weekly look at the sign. It was formed of a single yellow arch that had the McDonald’s Speedee chef character near the top. The McDonald brothers established the character as part of the signage on their original California restaurant. At night, the alternating on/off of two sets of neon tubes made it look like the little chef was running. Below Speedee, a large, red and white rectangular sign read, “McDonald’s Hamburgers.” What most interested Mister Boomer was the line below that. It read, “We have served over 700 Million.” As time went on, Mister Boomer noted the number changed; 750 million, 800 million, then one day, the entire sign had changed; Speedee was gone, and the phrase changed to “Over 1 billion Served.” The letters of the sign were no longer lit by neon tubes forming the letters, but the entire sign was made of backlit color panels. Sources suggest this transformation happened in a matter of two or three years, suggesting the year Mister B saw the sign change was 1963 or ’64.
By 1983, the first boomers were approaching 40 years old, with families of their own to bring to McDonald’s. The company recorded 5 billion McDonald’s hamburgers had been served in less than two decades. Within ten years, the McDonald’s signs that still retained the phrase were changed to read, “Billions and Billions Served.” Others dropped the phrase, replacing it with, “Drive-Thru.”
Within a couple of years after the McDonald’s set up shop in Mister B’s neck of the woods, a Burger King opened across the street. Both the McDonald’s and Burger King in Mister Boomer’s home town continue to operate today. Burger King had “Home of the Whopper” on its sign, but nothing on it had captured Mister B’s attention like the McDonald’s sign. The golden arches are long gone, and of course, that McDonald’s and Burger King are not the only ones in the area.
Do you have memories of the McDonald’s sign in your home town, boomers?