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The United States of McDonalds



For ME GROWING UP IN CHICAGO. McDonald's was always around. We had birthday parties at McDonald's because her apartment was on on the small size I went to McDonald's after work in high school and after school. It was the go-to meal when my mom Um and I were driving far distances and we needed something to eat and so I have probably spent most of my life inside of McDonald's so the fact that I wrote a book about McDonald's. McDonald's is actually not that surprising. This is Marsha chatwin. She's a professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown University and her new book. The book about McDonalds. It's called franchise the Golden Arches in Black America and speaking of the Golden Arches. There's another new book out called drive through dreams. James A Journey through the heart of America's fast-food kingdom it's by journalist. Adam Chandler the Golden Arches are thought to be according to independent survey more recognizable as a symbol. Both then the Christian crosses around the world recognizable or no. I didn't imagine we'd ever focus an entire episode on McDonald's but here we are Dr Together. Adema Marsha Taylor story about McDonald's that is about much more than McDonald's making it perfect for gastropod and we of course our guest repod the podcast. That looks at food through the Lens of science in history. I'm Cynthia Graber and I'm Nikola twilly and this episode. We're getting to the bottom of how McDonald's took over America. The story starts with WHO invented the hamburger burkart. And how did it become so ubiquitous that it gets bigger from there this episode. We're asking his McDonald's basically America's national cuisine and if it is is what can it tell us about who we are as a country less. How did the tax payer ended up funding the spread of McDonald's in the inner cities and why we're civil rights groups on board? Well whatever idea you have of of. How huge fast food is you should double or triple in your mind because the statistics are bonkers? They're completely bananas us. Eighty percent of Americans eat fast food every month. Ninety six percent of them eat fast food every year which is more than the number of Americans that participate participate on the Internet atom. Says there's not a single place in America that eighty percent of Americans go to at least monthly not a library or Jim or any house of worship according according to the Centers for Disease Control which is not happy about this stat. More than a third of American children eat food every day and for the population as the whole. It's roughly the same thirty six percent of us. Eat it every single day out of all the fast food available to us in the US. The biggest I the most popular chain the one that serves literally one percent of the world's population every day of course it's McDonald's which according to somewhat recent stats sells seventy five burgers every second and Serbs sixty eight million people per day. There is no real way to get your head around numbers that large. But what's weird is that's is makes McDonald's the biggest almost everything everything. It does so marshalled as the McDonald's is even the largest distributorship toys in the world just because of happy meals. At how do they get that big to answer that we we have to go back to the beginning. It all starts about one hundred years ago with the invention of the hamburger. Well there is a lot of debate as is debate about anything culinary in this world about who invented invented any particular item there are many authors but a lot of historians culinary or otherwise. We'll give credit to Walt Anderson. And he was a fry cook in Wichita who one day in one of those kind of Isaac Newton Aha moments got really frustrated when he was cooking a meatball on a griddle and smashed it flat right with the SPATULA and the result was a burger that cooked through really quickly and he put them in these specialty buns. And that's sort of the most recognizable version of of the Burger that we have well Anderson's meatball. Smashing moment was a breakthrough. He went onto lunch white castle. And that what is believed to be the very first fast food chain in the nineteen teens and twenties. There weren't fast food chains. Americans lived in a very different world less connected less cosmopolitan. I'm a politician. Even as late as nineteen twenty five only half of all the homes in the United States had `electricity even fewer had indoor plumbing. People weren't used to dining finding out regularly. Generally speaking there wasn't a unified culinary culture. There wasn't one item. We had ethnic enclaves that had their own specific blends of items that that were cherished and part of a tradition but in the nineteen twenties America was starting to change. The model t was becoming more affordable and the number of people who owned cars more than quadrupled. Adam told us that nineteen twenty was the first year that more Americans lived in cities the not the US was starting to become urban. The First World War was the first mechanized war and the nineteen twenties. He's was the machine. Age Technology promise to streamline and modernize every aspect of American life the nineteen twenties was also. The beginning of radio's Golden Age and more and more people started to tune into music and mystery and comedy shows. Radio started to create a national culture at the end of World War One reserved this unifying aspect to American elect. Technology was bringing about and the hamburger was part of that was part of finding a national diet. The hamburger did have one hurdle to overcome Americans. At the time. I'm was scared of ground meat. They were scared of it. Because they'd all read the jungle by Upton Sinclair and they were nervous about the quality of the food. The jungle was a really important book from the Early Nineteen Twenties. We talked about it in our episode. On the history of preservatives. It told the tale of a semi-fictional worker in a Chicago. Slaughterhouse and the nightmarish conditions there for both the workers and the resulting meat while Anderson than meat ball smashing genius behind the hamburger. He was fully aware that Americans thought ground meat was likely full of dirt and and dead rats and even workers fingers so what he did was he designed these stores that all look the same. They had stainless steel interiors white tiles and they look like castles and white castle was meant to kind of convey this stately safe grandeur of a place where you could go and it would be the same everywhere you went so it was meant to reassure consumers. Who didn't really know what was safe to eat? And that really set the tone for what would come in the future of these industries of franchising of seeing something wherever you are in saying. Oh I knew it. I'm going to get here. This is familiar to me. White Castle was the first to open in franchise fast food restaurants. But it isn't the biggest today as you all know. That title goes to McDonald's. McDonald's brothers were these two men from New Hampshire sure who had kind of seen the extremes of the great depression and they headed out to California to see where they could strike business. Gold Dick and Mac McDonald headed West in nineteen thirty. They were in their twenties and their thought was. Maybe they can make it big in the movies. That didn't find as much success as they'd hoped they were two sons of a shoe factory foreman and they found success more for in the business side of production the catering. They went from that into the restaurant business. They opened up a barbecue. Stand in nineteen forty and southern California and and it was one of the drivers of the era. That people are often familiar with car. hops in major at boots and a young guys cruising in in cars and people hanging out and just kind of a big scene and they were successful. First restaurant was called McDonald's and it was in San Bernardino which is just east of La. It's meaningful that. McDonald's started in southern California because southern California was really where a lot of changes that overtook. America were happening kind of on on steroids by the early nineteen forties. The Great Depression was finally over. San Bernardino is shifting from being farming town to more of a manufacturing and service industries industry center people were moving their into the growing city and suburbs and increasingly. They had a little disposable income but also San Bernardino was on route sixty six and so it was a place where a lot of people were traveling throughout California as well through as the rest of the country. So Dick and Mac McDonald. Were doing pretty well for themselves. But but then after eight years in the restaurant business. They surprised everyone by deciding to close their popular successful restaurant and entirely revamp it. The re diagram to what the kitchen would look like they use this assembly line model that White Castle and kind of employed and they cut the menu items from twenty five to nine. They also fired all all of the young women who are car hops because they felt like they were flirty and they would distract from the work that was happening there. They also wanted to pivot away from being a teen hangout to family friendly place. They got rid of silverware because people would steal it or break it and they went to wrapping Burgers in paper and they wanted to create the most efficient kitchen possible in order to serve as many people as possible. And so the revision of the McDonald's drive in is what we are living with today a highly automated mechanized kitchen and that is able to produce high volumes of food and a very short period of time. What they did was they basically just souped up the kitchen and turned it into a factory? An assembly line dusted with Hollywood magic. And the result was they could serve food for cheap even cheaper than their previous menu items had been. I didn't know what to make of it but it caught on very quickly. This new McDonald's factory style restaurant didn't just catch on with eaters. It became a total phenomenon. Within the restaurant industry. Eight people were coming from all over the country to kind of hear and see what was going on because there were these whispers in the industry about this place that was so popular and and you know there were long lines and people were talking about this place. That was not just serving a lot of people but serving a lot of people quickly so eventually the founders of Burger King Taco bell a couple of other chains that didn't quite make it ultimately stopped by and they copied with McDonald brothers. Were doing as Z.. Listeners know some of those copycats are still around today. One of the businessmen who came to see it was none other than Ray KROC. He was a salesman and he sold the mixing machines machines for milkshakes and the McDonald Brothers had bought a shockingly large quantity of these machines so great thought he'd go and see what they were doing with them. Ray had been in nearly every kind end of commercial kitchen available. At the time. He'd played jazz at speakeasy. During prohibition he'd sold kitchen and restaurant supplies around the country so he came to the McDonald's restaurant in San Bernardino we know and he saw the crowds and he was completely blown away by it and so immediately said this needs to be national. This needs to be everywhere. Ray convinced the brothers. Let him start working with them before long. He bought them out. And the tool that ray us to fulfil his dream of taking this model national and then global global was the franchise so franchising is this concept that a parent company provides all of the blueprints and the instructions and the recipes for a product or service and the Franchisee pays Hayes for the right to deliver that good or service to an audience. Ray KROC didn't invent this franchise model White Castle had already been using it and in fact many experts think that at the root of the idea goes back to the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages tax collectors did the work of the church and collected tithes and the kept some of the money for themselves at the start of the twentieth century. Rick Coca Cola had used the franchise model to make their sugary drink available at drugstores across America. But it was ray KROC who really took this franchise idea and ran with it. The franchise model. I think is amazing because it allows companies to pass on all of the liability to this other party so so that was sort of the way in which McDonald's grew really quickly and also took a lot of the risk out from opening places and this is the way they maintained control over franchisees so it was consistent. You didn't have rogue franchisees trying to sell Pepsi when you had a contract to sell coke and so it was a complicated system. But it's what turned McDonald's into the the biggest in the fastest growing fast food restaurant. The

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