Who Invented McDonald’s? The Story Behind the Fast Food Empire

McDonald’s, the global fast-food powerhouse, was invented by Richard and Maurice McDonald, two enterprising brothers from California and it has been instrumental in popularizing the fast-food culture, making quick-service meals a ubiquitous part of modern life.

Who Invented McDonald’s?

The invention of McDonald’s, the American fast-food restaurant, is attributed to the McDonald brothers, Richard and Maurice McDonald. The brothers founded the first McDonald’s in the city of San Bernardino, California, setting the stage for what would grow into an iconic global chain. From these humble beginnings, McDonald’s would become synonymous with burgers, fries, and quick-service meals that appeal to millions worldwide.

McDonald’s Background

The McDonald brothers initially entered the restaurant business with a drive-in that served a broad menu. However, their vision was to create something revolutionary – a streamlined operation that centered around “Speedee Service” – a system that dramatically cut down service time and simplified food preparation. The epitome of this was their success in 1948 when the first McDonald’s restaurant introduced a limited menu with a focus on a few items like hamburgers, French fries, and soft drinks.

This system was more than just quick; it was a phenomenon. Each station in the kitchen had a specific role, whether it was grilling burgers or bagging fries.

McDonald’s History

The rich history of McDonald’s started with the first drive-in established in 1940, but the major developments that set the foundation of McDonald’s as we know it occurred in 1948. After noticing that most of their profits came from hamburgers, the McDonald brothers redesigned their business into a self-service restaurant without carhops. They focused on a small set of menu items.

Their inventive concept reshaped the food service industry, and the brand’s destiny was forever changed in 1954 when Ray Kroc, a milkshake mixer salesman, stumbled upon this thriving operation and saw its potential. He joined forces with the McDonald brothers as a franchise agent, later creating McDonald’s Corporation and starting a prolific phase of franchising that would drive the company’s national and international expansion.

When Was McDonald’s Founded?

McDonald’s was founded on the 15th of April, 1955, by Ray Kroc with the first franchised restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois. However, the initial McDonald’s restaurant by the two brothers dates back to May 15, 1940. Ray Kroc often gets credit for founding McDonald’s due to his crucial role in its franchising and massive expansion, but the McDonald brothers conceived and opened the first McDonald’s ever.

How Old is McDonald’s?

As of 2024, counting from the opening day of the McDonald brothers’ first restaurant, McDonald’s has served customers for an impressive 84 years. From its inception, McDonald’s has evolved, adapted, and expanded to become a fast-food giant that boasts locations in over 100 countries worldwide.

Where Did McDonald’s Start?

McDonald’s started in the warm and bustling city of San Bernardino, California, where the original restaurant stood as a testament to ingenuity and the American entrepreneurial spirit.

McDonald’s Brothers

Richard and Maurice McDonald, the dedicated and forward-thinking McDonald brothers, ventured from their New Hampshire roots to the land of opportunity in California. Their initial success in the movie theater business was short-lived, pushing them to find another venture. They eventually stumbled upon the idea of opening a restaurant, which would unknowingly grow into a defining symbol of American culture.

The dedication of the McDonald brothers to detail and efficiency in their California restaurant led to a food preparation system that maximized speed and consistency. This attention to detail, both in systematizing the kitchen operation and maintaining food quality, attracted crowds and caught the eye of Ray Kroc, who would lead the business to universal fame.

McDonald’s Owner

The original owners of McDonald’s were, of course, the McDonald brothers themselves. It wasn’t until Ray Kroc entered the frame in 1954 that the modern era of McDonald’s truly began. After becoming a franchise agent and opening his own McDonald’s restaurant in Illinois, Kroc eventually purchased the company from the brothers in 1961.

First McDonald’s Location

The first McDonald’s location was the simple corner hamburger stand in San Bernardino, cradled in the Californian sun, which would see its transformation into the birthplace of a fast-food revolution. Here at 1398 North E Street and West 14th Street, a legacy began with what would become known as the first McDonald’s restaurant.

First McDonald’s Ever

The first McDonald’s was opened in 1940 by the two brothers, whose dream was to offer a quick, affordable, and enjoyable meal to the residents of California. They conceptualized a limited and focused menu, selling their now-famous hamburgers, fries, and shakes that would become staples of McDonald’s restaurants everywhere. This establishment, the prototype of future McDonald’s, would inspire a proliferation of restaurants nationwide and worldwide.

What Happened to the McDonald’s Brothers?

The McDonald brothers’ journey took a sharp turn. When Ray Kroc offered to expand their concept, they began as partners. In 1961, the brothers agreed to sell their rights to Kroc for $2.7 million, after which they retreated out of the spotlight and watched as Kroc led the chain they founded to international fame and success. The terms of their agreement barred them from using their own name in further business ventures, losing their connection with the brand.

Who Owns McDonald’s Now?

Today, McDonald’s is owned by a collective of shareholders, as McDonald’s Corporation is a publicly traded company founded on Wall Street. Each shareholder owns a fraction of the company, and it continues to operate under the leadership defined by the company’s board and executive officers.

From its headquarters in Chicago, the McDonald’s Corporation guides the global operations and strategic planning that sustains the legacy of Richard and Maurice McDonald and the entrepreneurial spirit of Ray Kroc.

How Did Ray Kroc Take Over McDonald’s?

Ray Kroc orchestrated the takeover of McDonald’s through a series of methodical steps, starting out as a franchise agent for the McDonald brothers and subsequently opening his first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Illinois, in April 1955. His unmatched vision for the brand’s potential led to rapid franchising and consolidation.

By leveraging his rights as a franchise agent and employing a zealous approach to expansion, Ray Kroc took control of the brand, paving the way for its global hegemony. His alignment with the McDonald brothers eventually led to an outright purchase, granting him full ownership.

Following the acquisition, Kroc’s McDonald’s Corporation began to fine-tune, standardize, and aggressively market the McDonald’s concept.

Who Bought the Original McDonald’s?

The original McDonald’s was bought by Ray Kroc from the McDonald brothers in the historic deal of 1961. Kroc, who initially laid eyes on the first McDonald’s while selling milkshake machines, eventually bought out the brothers for a sum that would ensure his control over the brand’s future and seal his place in the annals of American business history.

Transforming an Industry

Ray Kroc’s visionary impact goes beyond just McDonald’s; he transformed an entire industry. The franchise model he leveraged allowed for rapid, standardized expansion, and the centralization of purchasing empowered consistent quality across all locations.

Ray Kroc’s focus on the “three-legged stool” philosophy, which emphasized the partnership between the franchisor, franchisees, and suppliers, cultivated a strong business model that empowered growth.

His relentless drive for a national menu, standardized operations, and the eventual introduction of revolutionary menu items like the Big Mac and the breakfast menu initiated a legacy that McDonald’s continues to build upon.

Beyond the innovations in franchising and marketing, Kroc understood the importance of brand identity, community engagement (marked by initiatives like the Ronald McDonald House), and responding to shifting consumer demands, such as the breakfast menu or the first Ronald McDonald House. The imprint of Ray Kroc’s tenure is seen in every facet of the company—from each McDonald’s restaurant to its global strategy.

From its McDonald’s restaurant beginnings to Ray Kroc’s expansion and the broader McDonald’s Corp reign, the chain has seen a journey marked by extraordinary growth, cultural milestones, and global recognition.

Are You Loving It?

In the end, the story of McDonald’s serves up far more than a menu of quick bites; it’s a testament to how a simple idea can sizzle into a global sensation.

The McDonald brothers, Richard and Maurice, didn’t just flip burgers—they flipped the script on dining, steering us into an era where fast, affordable food comes with a side of cultural impact.







How to Cite this Article

There are three different ways you can cite this article.

1. To cite this article in an academic-style article or paper, use:

Syed Rafid Kabir, "Who Invented McDonald’s? The Story Behind the Fast Food Empire", History Cooperative, February 16, 2024, https://historycooperative.org/who-invented-mcdonalds/. Accessed April 14, 2024

2. To link to this article in the text of an online publication, please use this URL:


3. If your web page requires an HTML link, please insert this code:

<a href="https://historycooperative.org/who-invented-mcdonalds/">Who Invented McDonald’s? The Story Behind the Fast Food Empire</a>

Leave a Comment