Saturday, April 16, 2005

Happy birthday, Mickey D's!

April 15th marked the 50th anniversary of when the first McDonald's was opened in Des Plaines, Illinois by Ray Kroc.

I grew up in a small town in Iowa, the county seat in farming country. My hometown now has a McDonald's, but as a kid we had to drive 30 miles to the college town to see Speedee. Back then you went to a window to place your order which was placed in a white paper bag. Burgers cost 15 cents. The guys working inside (and they were all guys) wore white shirts and white paper hats. The burger stand was white and red tile and the golden arches ran through the building, not just on the signage.

And you sat in your car in the parking lot to eat. I can remember watching from the car as peeled potatoes would be pushed through a contraption that cut them into french fries. It was also fascinating to watch the milkshake mix and syrup whipped up in the Multi-mixers, the big barrels of Coca-Cola and root beer, and orangeade bowl that sprayed orangeade to keep it mixed.

It was a special treat to go to McDonald's. When the government provided polio vaccine for everyone (BTW, the polio vaccine also just turned 50), my family went to the National Guard Armory to get our sugar cube with the oral vaccine. You weren't supposed to eat for 60 minutes after taking the vaccine so we drove to college town for a Sunday meal of McDonald's burgers and fries.

Eventually that stand added an enclosed area from which to place your order, remodeled the exterior to modernize the look, and finally moved across the street to a brand new building with indoor seating.

I remember making a special trip to see Ronald McDonald live for the first time in 1968. Ronald was introduced in 1963, portrayed by Willard Scott. Yes, that Willard Scott.

The original McDonald's menu was simplicity itself - hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, soft drinks, coffee, and shakes. I remember the menu expansions, including the Filet-o-Fish in 1963, Big Mac and Hot Apple Pie in 1968, and the Quarter-Pounder in 1973.

I remember several advertising jingles.

Grad a bucket and mop.
Scrub it bottom to top.
There is nothing so clean,
As my burger machine.

You deserve a break today,
So get up and get away,
to McDonald's.


McDonald's is your kind of place.
A clean and snappy place.
At age 7, my parents told me I could have anything I wanted for lunch on the day they checked me out of the hospital where I'd been for a month to battle a staph infection in my leg. After consuming all that hospital food, I said I wanted a McDonald's hamburger. I remember my parents finding that funny. I'm still not sure why.