Fast Food in America

In 1921, which of the following fast food chains was the first to open?

And the answer is: White Castle.

Photo courtesy: Bruce Marlin

The fast food chain White Castle was founded in Wichita Kansas in 1921. Twenty-seven years later, in 1948, the first McDonald's restaurant opened in San Bernardino, California. Burger King first opened a few years later in Florida in the early 1950s, while the first Wendy's opened in 1969 in Columbus, Ohio.

The fast food industry is one that has grown with nostalgia for the American dream, and shows no signs of slowing down. Fast food culture is now a worldwide phenomenon, affecting everything from restaurant culture to diet trends to pop culture. While White Castle was the first chain restaurant to open its doors in 1921, it’s thanks to the ingenuity of McDonalds’ salesman and later owner Ray Kroc that fast food chains truly took off to become the easily-accessible, cheap meals we know and love today.

In 1948, Maurice “Mac” and Richard McDonald bought eight malt mixers from salesman Ray Kroc for their modest, San Bernardino hamburger restaurant. Intrigued by the need for so many mixers in such a small shop, Kroc paid a visit to the restaurant in 1954. What he discovered was revolutionary: burgers at half the price of its competing restaurants, a self-service line eliminating the need for waitresses, pre-cooked burgers with record-time returns. Kroc knew immediately that the McDonald brothers were working with something special. By 1955, they had launched the first McDonald’s franchise location in Des Plaines, Illinois. By the end of the decade, there were over 1,000 locations.

Other small businesses looking to create an enterprise began to take a cue from Kroc and McDonald’s success. Steadily, more and more chain restaurants began to pop up as businesses such as Burger King and Wendy’s sought to fulfill the consumer’s desire for quick, cheap, delicious food. Today, there are over 14,000 McDonald’s locations within the United States alone, and around 40,000 globally (hungry yet?).


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