McDonald's original menu items when the fast-food chain first started revealed

McDonald’s first opened its doors in California decades ago. Here’s what McDonald’s first restaurant menu looked like.

McDonald's: What were the original menu items when the restaurant first started?
© Con Keyes
McDonald's: What were the original menu items when the restaurant first started?

The story of McDonald’s first restaurant goes back decades and starts with brothers Richard (Dick) and Maurice (Mac) McDonald. The McDonald family were originally from Manchester, New Hampshire and they moved to Hollywood, California in the late 1930s. The brothers Dick and Mac McDonald opened the first McDonald’s in 1940 in San Bernardino, California.

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McDonald’s today is one of the largest fast-food restaurants in the world, with thousands of locations worldwide, and with its iconic red 'M' arch, it is one of the most recognisable branding for millions of people across the world.

If you have been curious about what the very first joint opened by the McDonald brothers contained, you will be surprised to know that some of the original menu items are still offered by McDonald’s restaurants today.

A photo of an Australian McDonald's store from 1986 Fairfax Media Archives

McDonald’s ‘Speedee Service System’

The most revolutionary thing introduced when the new McDonald's restaurant opens, is the manner in which the food is prepared. This was called the Speedee Service System, which single-handedly transformed the landscape of food service, and shaped the blueprint on which fast-food restaurant industry came to be built.

The new Speedee Service System worked like an assembly line from a manufacturing factory. It was designed to drive up the volume of sales while reducing production time and costs. For just a few cents, people could enjoy delicious burgers and drinks.

After a couple of years of McDonald's opening, the day of businessman Ray Kroc’s visit to the first McDonald’s restaurant in 1955 changed the world of food and dining forever. He realised this new establishment's system of operation had enormous potential and had the million dollar idea to scale it up.

Kroc made the McDonald brothers a business proposition to turn the outlet into a fast-food chain. He is credited with making McDonald’s a household name within just a few years, becoming the first chairperson of McDonald’s Corporation.

Today, McDonald's have over 40,000 franchises all over the world HUM Images

The original McDonald’s ‘Amazing Menu’ items

The original burger store opened by the McDonald brothers contained a simple streamlined menu with just 9 items. As reported by The Sun, here is the original menu.

McDonald’s Amazing Menu

  • Pure Beef Hamburger: 15 cents
  • Tempting Cheeseburger: 19 cents
  • Triple-Trick Shakes: 20 cents
  • Golden French Fries: 10 cents
  • Thirst-Quenching Coke: 10 cents
  • Delightful Root Beer: 10 cents
  • Steaming Hot Coffee: 10 cents
  • Full-Flavour Orange Drink: 10 cents
  • Refreshing Cold Milk: 12 cents

The limited number of items in the original menu was so that the kitchen could efficiently serve up all their customers quickly. For food, people could choose from hamburgers, cheeseburgers and of course what would later become a signature item, the McDonald’s fries. The drinks offered by the original joint were coke, root beer, orange drink and cold milk. 

Everything in the original menu cost just 20 cents or less. As soon as this this burger place opens, its a hit with people. McDonald’s hamburgers are still a hit with customers today. McDonald's later went on to add other items like chicken nuggets, sundaes and of course the Big Mac burgers.

McDonald's has been very successful at branding and marketing  Noam Galai

The transformation of the restaurant into an international chain

Over the years, McDonald’s has consistently maintained the highest standards in staff training and also displayed genius marketing skills. The company even founded a Hamburger University in 1961 Elk Grove Village, Illinois. The reason for opening this institution was to train McDonald’s staff. Today this place has grown to have 7 campuses worldwide in Oak Brook, Illinois; Tokyo, London, Sydney, Munich, São Paulo, and Shanghai.

Later, in 1963, McDonald’s introduced the iconic character of Ronald McDonald, a smiling clown, who went on to become a mascot of the brand. Ronald even appeared in numerous media commercials, news and on TV, including an appearance in the hit show ‘It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.’ Crafting a character that children and adults could instantly relate to was a genius way for McDonald’s to build its brand presence.

The company has come a long way from its humble beginnings and it’s easy to see why it’s a case study for so many corporations on how to build and maintain an enduringly-relevant global brand.

Sources used:

The Sun: 'MAC TO THE PASTHere are all the items that were on the original McDonald’s menu… and you won’t believe how different it was'
Insider: 'McDonald's Hamburger University can be harder to get into than Harvard and is even cooler than you'd imagine'

Insider: '9 things on McDonald's very first menu that you can still order'

McDonald's: Everything to know about the fast-food chain from founders to first menu items McDonald's: Everything to know about the fast-food chain from founders to first menu items