Ever since the invention of the wheel, people have needed places to stop and eat while traveling the countryside. Inns and taverns were the only options for hundreds of years going as far back as ancient Greece and Roman times. As man developed more sophisticated forms of travel, quicker and more convenient forms of dining were needed. These types of restaurants are known today as fast food restaurants. But who was the first to open a fast food restaurant?
Well some people consider White Castle to be the first restaurant to offer fast food. Originally opened in Kansas in 1921, White Castle restaurants revolutionized the hamburger by letting diners watch how the meal was prepared. Most people thought hamburger meat was just left over scraps from a slaughterhouse. But White Castle changed these perceptions and made the hamburger a respectable, affordable, and quick meal for Americans across the country.
But the most famous fast food restaurant and still the most successful is the one with the ‘Golden Arches’. McDonald’s was the first to create a hamburger restaurant that used an assembly line type of system to mass produce hamburgers for its customers. Originally Dick and Mac McDonald ran a hot dog stand at an airport in California but eventually graduated to owning a full restaurant on Route 66 in 1940. The menu consisted of 25 items, mostly barbecue, but their hamburgers quickly became the most profitable items. So in 1948, McDonalds’s revamped their system and started mass producing hamburgers for their customers. The new menu was just hamburgers, French fries, and milk shakes, and it was the birth of fast food in America. In 1953, McDonald’s became a franchise when the second restaurant opened in Phoenix, Arizona, then a third in Michigan, a fourth in Downey, California, and so on. By 1959 there were already 100 McDonald’s restaurants operating in the United States. It was around this same time that other fast food restaurants started popping up and giving McDonald’s competition.
In 1954, inspired by a visit to one of the original McDonald’s restaurants in California, James McLamore and David Edgerton opened InstaBurger King in Miami, Florida. Later changing its name to Burger King, it became one of McDonald’s chief competitors. By 1967 Burger King had grown to 274 restaurants nation-wide with a different concept of grilling their hamburgers, not frying.
In 1962 another famous fast food restaurant opened its doors to compete with McDonald’s but they didn’t sell hamburgers; they sold tacos. Glen Bell’s love of Mexican food, and the idea of assembly line food production, led him to opening the very first Taco Bell in Downey, California. Two years later a second store was bought and it became a franchise. In 1978, ‘PepsiCo.’ bought the franchise and it turned it into one of the country’s most successful fast food restaurants in history.
In 1930, a man named Harland Sanders began serving fried chicken to his customers at a gas station in Kentucky. By 1936 his chicken had become so famous that the governor made him an honorary ‘Colonel’ and the legend of ‘Colonel Sanders’ Kentucky Fried Chicken’ began. By the 1960’s, over 600 franchises were selling the Colonel’s ‘secret recipe’ chicken. It was eventually purchased by ‘PepsiCo.’ and is now the number one fast food chicken restaurant in the world.
In 1969, Dave Thomas, already successful as a former Kentucky Fried Chicken manager, opened up his first old fashioned hamburgers restaurant in Columbus, Ohio and named it after his youngest daughter ‘Wendy’. Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers went on to become the third best selling fast food hamburger chain in the United States selling their famous square hamburgers and ‘Frosty’ shakes.
The idea of assembly line food production and quick service was improved even more in the 1950’s with the advent of the speaker system drive through window. Drive-up windows had already been in use since the 1930’s but when technology took over customers didn’t even need to leave their vehicles to receive quick service from their favorite fast food restaurant. The popularity of using the drive-thru has even led to some fast food restaurants creating a ‘double drive-thru’ which makes it possible to receive, process, and serve several food orders simultaneously.
Today, fast-food restaurants are everywhere; on every main roadway and highway, and in every airport and shopping mall. Fast food dominates the advertising world with millions of dollars spent every year on television, radio, print, and billboard ads. However, a current health conscience society has forced most fast food restaurants to rethink their menus and offer much healthier choices like salads, fruit, and grilled chicken. But despite all of the supposed health concerns nation-wide, fast food restaurants still make the majority of their profits from traditional hamburgers and fries.