World War II was over, and the little sandwich shop on the corner of 14th and E Streets was hopping. Not only were the carhops hopping to and fro amongst the many cars that packed the parking lot, there was also a continual stream of hot rods cruising slowly in one side, around behind, and then back out the front on the other side of the parking lot. It was Saturday night at the McDonald Brothers’ drive-in restaurant in downtown San Bernardino, California. Postwar glee filled the air.
And as the busy days became even busier the McDonald brothers wanted to make a change. There had been 20 carhops and 25 items on the menu… and too many teenagers… and too much trouble.
In 1948 Richard McDonald looked at the yearly sales records and saw that 80% of their sales had been hamburgers. So, he and his brother had an idea to make a new streamlined “speedy service system” selling 15-cent hamburgers and 10-cent fries using the principles of mass production.
They closed their carhop restaurant and reopened with great success at the end of the year, as just plain “McDonald’s.” They bragged right on the sign about how many burgers they were selling. They were so successful that within five years they had opened four more “McDonald’s” in nearby towns.
They wanted to serve the many young postwar families with an inexpensive and quick meal (later to be termed “fast food”). People who knew the McDonald brothers said they were very good men, who cared well for their employees. They put up their double golden arches at the end of 1953 as a trademark of happy success.
Then along came the “friendly” milkshake machine salesman from Des Plaines, Illinois, in the fall of 1954. His curiosity had been aroused when these brothers kept ordering more and more of his machines. He decided to go out to California and see for himself why they were making so many milkshakes. He was very business minded and immediately saw in these brothers the possibility of a very successful business opportunity. He convinced them to let him franchise “McDonald’s” for them. They reluctantly agreed and the milkshake machine salesman hurried back to Illinois to get to work. He opened “an exact copy” of the restaurant the McDonald brothers had on 14th and E, calling it “McDonald’s #1”… but by this time the brothers had themselves opened several other places near San Bernardino. It became evident that the milkshake machine salesman was taking off on his own, using the McDonald brothers’ business creation for his own goals.
Six years later it was obvious to him the gold mine that he had found. So the milkshake machine salesman offered the brothers a deal they could not turn down. In 1961 he offered them a little over a million dollars each to buy out the franchise. They agreed to the deal only on the stipulation that they would be allowed to keep running their first very prosperous location on 14th and E Streets for themselves and their faithful employees. The brothers wanted to give each employee a part of the business as a reward for their hard work. But to the McDonald brothers’ surprise, once the deal was signed a construction crew arrived at their restaurant and took down their “McDonald’s” sign, the golden arches, and any other McDonald’s insignia. They were informed that they would not be allowed to call their restaurant anything that resembled the name “McDonald’s”, which was now locked under legal trademark. Many of the other things within the restaurant that they created were now also barred from their own usage.
Thus began the bitter relationship between the milkshake machine salesman and the original McDonald brothers. It got to the point that for a while he even denied that the real McDonald brothers ever existed.
The little shop on 14th and E soon slipped into anonymity under the title “The Big M.” But to make matters worse, a new bright, shiny “golden arches” was erected just one block away, as the milkshake machine salesman opened a new location right in the face of the struggling McDonald brothers. The small band of employees remained faithful to the brothers until the day the doors closed seven years later. Old “Mac” McDonald died three years later in 1971 with few to acknowledge any great achievements. But thirteen years later, many mourned when the milkshake machine salesman died. It was headline news that the genius behind McDonald’s had passed away. And perhaps he was the “genius”, but not the heart.
It was not until 1992 that the McDonald’s Corporation was finally forced to acknowledge the existence and validity of the remaining McDonald brother and his claims. A representative from the McDonald’s Corporation came to 14th and E Streets admitting that this was in fact the site of the first restaurant and presented the remaining brother, Richard McDonald, a small plaque of honor to be placed there. The facts were indisputable, the witnesses were irrefutable, but there was no great fanfare that day at 14th and E Streets. The old ramshackle building that stands on the spot was converted to a dingy homegrown-style museum… that no one goes to... and old Mr. McDonald died a poor man with little consolation.
Yet in Des Plaines, Illinois, is a state-of-the-art museum on the spot where the milkshake machine salesmen opened his “McDonald’s #1”. It is shiny and boasts of great accomplishments. Those who pass by there will from then on confidently say, “Hey, today I saw the place where the first McDonald’s was.” If someone were by chance to contest, saying that one sweltering hot night just after World War II he personally drove through the crowded parking lot on 14th and E Streets and ordered a burger from the smiling McDonald brothers, and tasted a cool milkshake, his protest would go unheard. “I know, that I know, that I know…. I saw with my own eyes the place in Des Plaines, Illinois, where the first McDonald’s started!” would be the reply.
So, does history not matter anymore?
Finding the original, the “first one”, is really important when you are trying to authenticate something. It is interesting to know the roots of the thousands of “golden arches” that dot this planet. But what about the millions of golden crosses that fill the skyline of every major city in the western world? Has there been an equally bitter cut between them and the authentic “first one”? The churches of today boast of starting with an authentic Savior two thousand years ago, with twelve authentic apostles who knew Him personally. But wouldn’t those twelve apostles, like the old McDonald brothers, tell a much different story of the “first one” when talking about the churches we see today on every street corner? Those twelve apostles started the “first one”, and there is a vivid description of what the “first one” looked like and how it was run. All the things those first twelve did were carefully recorded in the Bible in the book that was named after them, called “the Acts (what they did) of the Apostles.” It says, ALL those who believed were TOGETHER, and had ALL things in COMMON. There were no needy among them for they sold their possessions and gave to those who had need….1 The twelve apostles started the church and that is how they lived. That was the authentic one — the “first one.”