The early working years of the MacDonald brothers

In 1926, brothers Maurice and Dick MacDonald hoped to find fame in the industry of moving pictures. At first, they hauled sets and worked the lights during back-breaking shifts on silent film sets. But they were unable to move up in the behind-the-scene ranks of the business.

In 1930, after scrimping and saving, they purchased a theatre. To dissuade patrons from taking their own food to the movies, they installed a snack bar in the lobby.

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The Story of How McDonald’s First Got Its Start

smithsonianmag.com

The McDonald brothers' theatre faltered during the lean years of the Depression, leaving the brothers always behind on their bills. In 1937, they sold the theatre and moved from entertainment to food service.

They made an open-air food stand and served fresh orange drinks and hot dogs in close proximity to a flying field. The venture was successful enough that they opened two more stands.

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The The McDonald brothers entertained a dream of a new establishment they'd call the Dimer but rejected the idea as too Depression-era. They were certain the future involved appealing to drivers.

After many rejections, the entrepreneurs secured a loan of $5,000, this time putting their surname on their roadside restaurant, followed by the featured menu item of "McDonald's Barbeque."

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The beginning of popular McDonalds
  • A fleet of attractive young women outfitted in usherette uniforms delivered McDonald's Barbeque food directly to the customers' car.
  • After the war, drive-inns became increasingly popular and a minefield of unsavoury behaviour. Despite this, sales continued to increase.
  • In 1948, Dick and Mac decided to close their doors and reassess. They asked themselves how they could prepare hamburgers, fries and shakes as efficiently as possible and for maximum profit.

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Following the enterprising family of Levitt that applied Ford's Model T-like assembly-line logic to building homes on New York's Long Island, the McDonald brothers decided to mimic this mentality in the preparation and serving of food.

  • They identified their best sellers and slashed their menu from twenty-five items to the nine most popular items. An automatic condiment dispenser was designed that squirted a precise amount of ketchup or mustard, and a mechanised press formed beef into patties.
  • The makeover included an assembly line of food preparation and less personnel. Customers had to get out of their cars and walk to the window to order, viewing the efficient kitchen where their food was being prepared.
  • The efficiency meant reduced operational costs, lower cost to the customers, and a handsome profit to the brothers. But customers despised it. The facelift was a disaster.

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Four months in, a turnaround occurred for no particular reason. Profits soon soared to $100,000 a year. The quality of food was not the main draw except, perhaps, for the crispy fresh potatoes.

Copycats arrived to study the operation in action. The details the imitators couldn't see, Dick and Mac shared cheerily. In 1952, the brothers ran an ad announcing that their "revolutionary development in the restaurant industry" was now available for sale to interested parties.

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Instead of just paying a visit and stealing the idea, the more honest plunked down a $950 franchise fee for the formula. The first in line wanted to use McDonald's name of the stand he intended to build, saying he thought their name "lucky." He got an operating manual for his money, a counterman on loan for a week, and an architectural blueprint from which to build the restaurant.

A dairy supplier, hoping to encourage sales of ice cream, offered to replicate McDonald's nationwide. The brothers ultimately refused. They were happy with just selling the manual and blueprints.

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