So there we were, driving down I-95 to Florida to visit the in-laws and Disneyworld (the two birds/one stone method of vacationing), when we heard this tiny voice in the back of the car start singing “duh duh duh duh DUH.” We looked at our 18 month-old son and then outside the car and—sure enough—we were passing by the ubiquitous Golden Arches of McDonald’s. Before you make a mental disparaging judgment on our parenting values, place it accordingly: Our son knew the catchy McDonald’s jingle not because he’d ever been inside the fast-food restaurant (his first time would occur about an hour later), but because he’d obviously been watching too much TV.
Although parents might not be happy that so-called educational television shows for kids are sandwiched between commercials for fast food and obnoxious, noisy toys made in China, the sad truth of the matter is that—as my story demonstrates—these commercials works. One catchy tune + one highly visible and identifiable logo = one super-successful brand. And nobody can deny that McDonald’s is one of the most successful brands, whether you admit eating there or not.
McDonald’s didn’t always have the golden arches, however. When Dick and Mac McDonald started their drive-in BBQ restaurant in California in 1940, it had no logo. Eight years later, after they’d revamped the restaurant, cutting the menu down to nine items and highlighting the 15-cent hamburger, McDonald’s introduced Speedee—a miniature, animated chef—as the company symbol.
Ray Kroc, now legendary but then a simple salesman, became the company’s national franchising agent in 1954 and opened his first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Illinois in 1955. The red-and-white building, designed by architect Stanley Meston, featured the first golden arches.
The Golden Arches made their first appearance in the company’s logo five years later and from then on, they remained a part of McDonald’s brand. The first golden arches logo combined the design of the building with the “M” in McDonald’s.
1968 and 1969 were big years for the fast-food leader. Two stalwarts—the Big Mac and the hot apple pie—were added to the national menu after being developed by individual franchisees. The 1,000th restaurant opened in Des Plaines, the same place the first one had opened so many years before. And the company remodeled its restaurants, changing the roof and getting rid of the red-and-white buildings.
With this remodel, greater emphasis was given to the Golden Arches as the company’s brand. The new logo dropped the crossbar and merged the arch legs, making it more recognizable as an early precursor of the one we know (and either love or hate) today.
In the nearly 50 years since, the logo has been shadowed, shined, and given dimension. It’s had a red background and a white background, and even a curved “smile” line underneath. Mascots like Speedee, Ronald, Hamburglar, and a talking Happy Meal box have come and gone and come again. Critics and analysts alike have long sounded McDonald’s death knell, but yet the chain is still nearly everywhere, serving its billions and billions of customers.