7 Oldest McDonald’s in America

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McDonald’s is one of the biggest and most successful fast food franchises in the world. Created by brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald and franchised by Ray Kroc, this food chain has grown to serving 68 million customers across over 120 countries daily.

But like all mega-successful brands, McDonald’s had humble beginnings. Here’s a list of the first and earliest McDonald’s outlets!

7. Kroc’s Second McDonald’s Outlet

Year: 1956-Unknown
Still active?: No
State: Illinois

Kroc’s First McDonald’s Outletimage credit: chicagoist

While continuing to search for more franchisees for his McDonald’s chain, Kroc discovered that the McDonald brothers had given a license to their franchise in Cook County, Illinois to the Frejlach Ice Cream Company without telling him. This move greatly angered Kroc and made his desire to build his fast food chain alone.

Kroc bought those rights off of the ice cream company for five times the initial value – $25,000 – and continued building his brand, cutting ties with the brothers in the process. By 1959, he had opened 102 McDonald’s restaurants. And that, as they say, is history.

6. Kroc’s First McDonald’s Outlet

Year: 1955-Present
Still active?: Yes
State: Illinois

Kroc’s First McDonald’s Outletimage credit: Chicagoist

The McDonald brothers had been using Ray Kroc’s Multimixer milkshake machines, which he sold for the Price Castle brand, in their San Bernardino outlet. News travelled to Kroc, and he was immediately interested. He and his friend Charles Lewis visited the outlet, and Lewis made a number of suggestions that would potentially improve the recipe for the McDonald’s burgers.

Kroc felt that the McDonald brothers’ ideas could create huge success and wanted to franchise the restaurant around the whole country. The brothers were skeptical, but Kroc said he would take on the majority of the responsibility of that task and offered them 0.5% of the gross sales.

Kroc opened his first McDonald’s in 1955 in North Lee Street, Des Plaines, and had the interior painted by Eugene Wright of Wright’s Decorating Service. He decided to design the restaurant in yellow and white, with dark brown and red as secondary colors. This cemented the color scheme that McDonald’s would use till today.

In 1990, the McDonald’s Corporation acquired this particular outlet and rehabilitated it, returning it to its original condition but with more modern infrastructure, and set up a gift shop and museum next to it.

5. Oldest Surviving McDonald’s in USA and the World

Year: 1953-Present
Still active?: Yes
State: California

image credit:Lucas Peterson

The second franchisee to pick up on the new design and ideas was actually Fox’s brother-in-law, Roger Williams, and a friend, Burdette “Bud” Landon. The three of them worked with the same company, and the second new McDonald’s was opened in Lakewood Boulevard, Downey, on the 18th of August 1953.

Today, this very same restaurant is still operational and is officially the world’s oldest surviving McDonald’s. It is even considered a tourist attraction now, complete with its own museum and gift shop.

At the time of its creation and for several decades after, this McDonald’s was quite different from other existing McDonald’s outlets, as it was the only one that was franchised with the McDonald brothers and not with Ray Kroc, meaning it was not given any modernization requirements following Kroc’s takeover of the franchise. As such, it had a different menu and didn’t even implement the famous Big Mac into it.

However, this joint almost didn’t survive. In the mid-1970’s, a new corporate McDonald’s opened very nearby, and the menu difference caused this older outlet to have a bad dip in sales. In 1990, it was finally taken under Kroc’s McDonald’s Corporation but then was damaged by the Northridge earthquake in 1994.

Due to all this, the corporation wanted to demolish it, but the outlet was listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservations’ 11 Most Endangered Historic Places that very year, causing many to demand that it was saved. The corporation decided to restore and repair the restaurant, and after two years, it was reopened successfully.

4.The Birth of the Golden Arches

Year: 1953-Unknown
Still active? :No
State: Arizona

image credit:Wikipedia

The McDonald brothers continued to long for improvement in their restaurant and decided to construct a brand new building that would be more appealing to the eye. They took this decision seriously and were careful about searching for and hiring the right architect. Eventually, after interviewing a few different options, they hired Stanley Clark Meston from Fontana.

With the new design, the McDonald brothers aimed to create and set up new equipment that would make their operations more efficient. Meston worked with the brothers in a quaint and unorthodox way – he drew out the measurements of the restaurant-to-be’s equipment with chalk on the ground of a tennis court behind their home.

Plans were made to change McDonald’s into a fast food chain instead of the sit-down diner it had been formerly, and the brothers came up with marketing techniques to make this happen. They planned to turn off the heating and have angled, spaced out seating that would discourage customers from staying for too long. They also wanted to serve drinks in cone-shaped cups, forcing customers to have to hold on to their drinks while eating. These ideas served as inspiration for other fast food chains later on, such as Subway and Burger King.

Aside from the added, improved equipment, the new McDonald’s was also set to have a better design. Bright colors – red and white tiles, colored sheet metal, and bright neon signs in red, white, yellow, and green – were set to make the restaurant even more attractive. They also drew up plans for two yellow sheet-metal arches in a bright, neon yellow that would run across the roof; this was the birth of the famous golden arches. They also created a mascot – a chubby character in a chef’s hat called “Speedee”.

With these ideas and drawings, the McDonald’s brothers set out to find franchisees. Their first was Neil Fox, who worked as a distributor for General Petroleum Corporation. His first stand opened in May 1953 and was officially the first McDonald’s fast food outlet and the first to have its famous golden arches.

3. The First McDonald’s

Year: 1948-Unknown
Still active?: No
 State: California

The_First_McDonald’simage credit:BusinessInsider

When the McDonald brothers reopened their restaurant in December 1948, they greatly simplified their menu’s contents, only serving hamburgers, cheeseburgers, apple pie, potato chips, soft drinks, and coffee.

A year later, the brothers changed the menu again, removing the chips and pie and replacing them with French fries and milkshakes. They also made alterations to their operating system by removing carhops and setting up a self-service system – one that would continue to be used till this day.

The brothers, by this point, had learned much about operating a restaurant and worked to focus on their kitchen’s operations, making them more streamlined and setting up an assembly line to make orders go out faster and more smoothly.

2. McDonald’s Bar-B-Que

Year: 1940-1948
Still active?: No
State: California

McDonald’s Bar-B-Que image credit:Amusingplanet

About 40 miles to the east of The Airdrome’s original location, the McDonald’s brothers opened up a restaurant in the style of a carhop drive-in on West 14th and 1398 North E Streets in San Bernardino. The restaurant focused on serving barbecue food and had twenty-five items on the menu.

Their restaurant saw a good amount of success, but a few years into their operations, the McDonald’s brothers realized that a majority of the profit they were earning came from the sale of hamburgers, not the other barbecue items on the menu. They decided, once more, to close down the restaurant temporarily and reopen with new branding and a new menu again.

1. The Airdrome

Year: 1937-1940
Still active?: No
 State: California

The Airdromeimage credit:amusingplanet

While technically not the first actual McDonald’s by name, The Airdrome was the McDonald family’s first venture into the food and restaurant industry. Opened by Patrick McDonald, the father of the family, The Airdrome was a simple food stand situated on Huntington Drive, Monrovia, California.

At first, The Airdrome only served hot dogs, but gradually expanded its menu to include hamburgers and orange juice. The stall did well, but eventually, the McDonald’s brothers decided to close it down and move it to change up their menu and branding in 1940.


1. Skrabec, Quentin R.; Skrabec Jr., Quentin R. (2012). The 100 Most Significant Events in American Business: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 206.
2. Bryson, Bill (1994). Made in America. p. 338.
3. Hess, Alan (March 1986). “The Origins of McDonald’s Golden Arches”. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. 45 (1): 60–67.

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