Who Made America? | Innovators | Ray Kroc

Born:   1902, Chicago, IL
Died:   1984, San Diego, CA

Did You Know?

After McDonald’s was well established, Kroc still tried, with less success, to launch upscale hamburger restaurants, German-tavern restaurants, pie shops and even theme parks.

Photos: McDonald’s Corporation

Restaurant Chains

A traveling salesman, inspired by a California restaurant, launched a fast food empire that spread worldwide. It succeeded by making uniformity, simplicity, and value cardinal virtues.

Ray Kroc has been called “fast food’s founding father.” He was born in 1902 and grew up to sell restaurant products including paper cups and milk-shake mixers. His trips to coffee shops, diners, and other inexpensive restaurants around the nation gave him deep experience in the industry, and a well-honed sense of what constituted successful management. Yet it was not until he was 52 years old that he had the idea that would transform the existing franchise fast food industry.

Well-Managed Burger Joint
Kroc’s insight came while visiting a San Bernardino, California, burger bar. Wondering why it needed the capacity to make 40 milkshakes at a time, he became inspired by the operation’s simplicity and efficiency. The McDonald brothers had eliminated wait staff, china plates, and dining options in favor of assembly-line burgers and fries from a limited menu, served on paper plates with plastic utensils. Without amenities, the food was priced much cheaper. The restaurant was sparkling clean, the workers were efficient, and the customers were lining up.

Franchise Business
Kroc made a deal with the brothers to franchise their restaurant throughout the country, with a driving mission of uniformity and value. The first McDonald’s franchise under Kroc’s management opened in his home state of Illinois in 1955. Kroc strove to establish standard procedures for every task at the restaurant, applying the rigorous management and assembly-line orientation that innovators like Henry Ford had established in other industries. After quarrelling with the McDonald brothers, Kroc bought the business, including the name and the now famous golden arches logo, in 1961 for $2.7 million. Forty years later, there were more than 18,000 McDonald’s franchises throughout the world. In 22 years of business, the company made a billion dollars, and along the way became a symbol of American business as well as a major owner of American real estate. The model for restaurant chains as well as American capitalism, McDonald’s continues to expand today. Kroc died in 1984.

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