McDonald’s captures imaginations. These days, it’s hard to travel a strip of suburban road, even in New England, without seeing those golden arches rising from the commercial landscape. Today, McDonald’s and its franchisees employ some 1.9 million people in more than 36,000 restaurants in over 100 countries.
During the same year that McDonald’s opened its first Lowell-area restaurant in 1965, the chain also celebrated its 10th anniversary and became a public company with its initial public stock offering.
McDonald’s growth in Massachusetts was part of its larger success story. Nationwide, McDonald’s had 700 locations by the mid-1960s and had become famous for its 15-cent hamburgers. No item on its menu sold for more than 20 cents.
McDonald’s strategy mirrored that of the Detroit automakers: churn out hamburgers with assembly-line efficiency – high volume and low overhead. Then hope that customers will wait at the self-service window and keep coming back to enjoy those budget-friendly prices.
McDonald’s original restaurant model included self-service windows, rather than today’s familiar eat-in restaurant (introduced in 1962) and drive-thru. Those drive-thrus debuted at a McDonald’s located near a military base in Arizona. The initial draw? Soldiers couldn’t leave their vehicles while wearing fatigues without violating dress code.
McDonald’s first television advertisements hit the airwaves in the early 1960s, not long before entering the Lowell, Massachusetts market. This ad, posted by VintageTVCommercials, may be the first featuring a now-unfamiliar-looking Ronald McDonald. That “hamburger-happy clown” was played by none other than later longtime TV weatherman Willard Scott. Note the paper-cup nose and Ronald McDonald’s magic tray.
This second ad, courtesy of the Museum of Classic Chicago Television, dates from 1967. The one-minute spot magically manages to capture all the nostalgia of the late 1960s–cars that claimed their own zip codes, midcentury childhoods when seatbelts and carseats were more of a suggestion, and the McDonalds of the 1960s, with its own logo and version of those famous fries. Eagle-eyed viewers might catch also catch–around 0:17 in–that 18-cent pricing on hamburgers. Warning: The “McDonald’s is Your Kind of Place” tune is the sort of jingle that may stay stuck in your head for a while.
McDonald’s today has grown into a multinational corporation that brings “Americana” into countries far from America’s shores. Whether you’re seeking a break from local fare in some faraway country or looking for a familiar staple of twentieth-century childhoods everywhere, it’s hard to deny that McDonald’s has had an indelible impact on American (and world) culture of the past sixty years.
(Header image credit: McDonald’s, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)