Opening the First McDonald's

The Story Behind Ray Kroc's First Store

A replica of the very first McDonald's.

Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Founder Ray Kroc’s first McDonald’s, known as Store #1, opened on April 15, 1955, in Des Plaines, Illinois. This first store sported a red-and-white tile building and the now very recognizable large Golden Arches. The first McDonald’s offered lots of parking (no inside service) and featured a simple menu of hamburgers, fries, shakes, and drinks.

Origins of the Idea 

Ray Kroc, the owner of Prince Castle Sales, had been selling Multimixers, machines that allowed restaurants to mix five milkshakes at one time, since 1938. In 1954, 52-year-old Kroc was surprised to learn of a small restaurant in San Bernadino, California that not only had five Multimixers but used them nearly non-stop. Before long, Kroc was on his way to visit.

The restaurant that was using the five Multimixers was McDonald’s, owned and operated by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald. The McDonald brothers had originally opened a restaurant called McDonald’s Bar-B-Q in 1940 but revamped their business in 1948 to focus on a more limited menu. McDonald's sold only nine items, which included hamburgers, chips, slices of pie, milkshakes, and drinks.

Kroc loved the McDonald’s concept of a limited menu with fast service and convinced the McDonald brothers to broaden their business with nation-wide franchises. Kroc opened his first McDonald’s the following year, on April 15, 1955, in Des Plaines, Illinois.

What Did the First McDonald’s Look Like?

The very first of Ray Kroc’s McDonald’s was designed by architect Stanley Meston. Located at 400 Lee Street in Des Plaines, Illinois, this first McDonald’s had a red-and-white tile exterior and large Golden Arches that flanked the sides of the building.

Outside, a large red and white sign announced the “Speedee service system.” Ray Kroc wanted quality with quick service and so the first McDonald’s character was Speedee, a cute little guy with a hamburger for a head. Speedee stood on top of that first sign, holding another sign advertising “15 cents” – the low cost of a hamburger. (Ronald McDonald would replace Speedee in the 1960s.)

Also outside were plenty of parking spots for customers to wait for their car-hop service (there was no inside seating). While waiting in their cars, customers could order from the very limited menu that included hamburgers for 15 cents, cheeseburgers for 19 cents, French fries for 10 cents, shakes for 20 cents, and all other drinks for just 10 cents.

Inside the first McDonald’s a crew of workers, wearing dark slacks and a white shirt covered by an apron would prepare the food quickly. At the time, fries were made fresh from potatoes and Coca Cola and root beer were drawn directly from a barrel.

The McDonalds Museum

The original McDonald’s underwent a number of remodels over the years but in 1984 it was torn down. In its place, a nearly exact replica (they even used the original blueprints) was built in 1985 and turned into a museum.

The museum is simple, perhaps too simple. It looks just like the original McDonald’s, even sporting mannequins pretending to work at their stations. However, if you want to actually eat McDonald’s food, you have to go across the street where a modern McDonald’s awaits your order. However, you may have more fun by visiting these eight amazing McDonald's restaurants.

Important Dates in McDonald’s History

1958 – McDonald’s sells its 100 millionth hamburger

1961 – Hamburger University opens

1962 – The first McDonald’s with indoor seating (Denver, Colorado)

1965 – There are now over 700 McDonald’s restaurants

1966 – Ronald McDonald appears in his first TV commercial

1968 – The Big Mac is first offered

1971 – Ronald McDonald gets friends – Hamburglar, Grimace, Mayor McCheese

1975 – The first McDonald’s drive-thru opens

1979 – Happy Meals introduced

1984 – Ray Kroc dies at age 81

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Opening the First McDonald's." ThoughtCo, Sep. 2, 2021, Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2021, September 2). Opening the First McDonald's. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Opening the First McDonald's." ThoughtCo. (accessed September 19, 2021).