Business and Labor

The McDonald Brothers Open a Restaurant After the NH Shoe Factories Close

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The McDonald brothers vowed they would be financially independent when their father was fired from his job at a New Hampshire shoe factory after 42 years of loyal service. No pension, no gold watch, no thank you.

Stung by their father’s abrupt dismissal, Mac and Dick McDonald vowed they would be millionaires by the time they reached 50. They almost made it.

Richard and Maurice McDonald were born in Manchester, N.H. Their parents had immigrated from Ireland as children. Their father, Patrick, worked as a shift manager at the G.P. Krafts shoe factory, one of some 20,000 shoe workers in Manchester.

Patrick was fired when the shoe factories were closing. Workers and their families would move to the suburbs and drive to work – a development not lost on the McDonald brothers.

The second McDonald's franchise -- and oldest still standing -- in Downey, Calif.

The second McDonald's franchise -- and oldest still standing -- in Downey, Calif.

McDonald Brothers Go West

Maurice, or Mac, was born November 26, 1902. Richard, or Dick, was born February 16, 1909. The boys had three sisters. Mac went to Central High School, Dick to West. They were classmates of the Revson brothers, who founded the Revlon cosmetic empire.

After they graduated from high school, the McDonald brothers moved to Hollywood, Calif.

Mac and Dick began working as set movers and handymen at film studios. They opened a movie theater that didn’t do so well. They opened a hot dog stand in Monrovia, Calif., in 1937. They called it the Airdome. Ten-cent hamburgers were added, along with all-you-can-drink orange juice for a nickel. The hot dog stand did okay.

In 1940, the brothers moved the building 40 miles east to a bigger city: San Bernardino. They called it McDonald's Bar-B-Que, with 25 items on the menu. By the fall of 1948, Dick and Mac realized most of their money was coming from hamburger sales. They closed their barbecue stand and built anew.

Their goals:  speed, volume and cleanliness. The new drive-in had no interior and no wait staff, but it had a kitchen designed as a production assembly line. A stainless steel grill replaced the old iron version because it could cook more burgers. Paper and plastic replaced cutlery and plates, and the dishwashers who Dick complained were drunks didn’t return. Customers ordered food at the counter and got it within seconds.

At the new restaurant, called McDonald’s, they sold only hamburgers, cheeseburgers, potato chips, coffee, soft drinks and apple pie. A freak storm dumped three inches of snow on San Bernardino on the day it opened. So few customers came the employees were told to park their cards in front of the restaurant so it looked busy.

A year later they were serving hordes of customers who didn’t want to wait for their meals: high school students, cab drivers, travelers and busy families. They swapped out the apple pie and potato chips for milk shakes and French fries. They were so successful they each bought a Cadillac and traded it in every year.

McDonald Downey second

Golden Arches

By 1952 the McDonald brothers decided to expand. They hired Southern California architect Stanley Clark Meston to design the first franchised restaurant.

Meston had already worked on drive-ins in a late art deco style. He worked closely with Mac and Dick to design the new restaurant. They drew in chalk the actual measurements of every piece of kitchen equipment on the tennis court behind their house.

The brothers offered Meston a flat fee or a commission every time a new restaurant was built. He made the wrong choice – he took the fee. He designed the building with red-and-white ceramic tile, gleaming stainless steel surfaces, pulsating neon and two 25-foot yellow arches (Dick’s idea).

Meston hated the arches. "I'll put the damn things in, but don't tell anyone I was involved in it," Meston said. The sign proclaiming how many millions, then billions sold was also Dick’s idea.

The first franchise was built in Phoenix, Ariz., in 1953 for Neil Fox. Fox’s brother-in-law and friend bought the second franchise in Downey, Calif., where the oldest original McDonald’s restaurant still stands.

In 1954, they met Ray Kroc, who persuaded them to go national. By 1961 they were tired of the restaurant business. They sold out to Kroc for $2.71 million plus 1 percent of gross sales.

The McDonald brothers are portrayed in the film The Founder, starring Michael Keaton.

The McDonald brothers are portrayed in the film The Founder, starring Michael Keaton.

Lost Points

The first New Hampshire McDonald’s opened in 1964 on South Willow Street in Manchester, a block from Dick and Mac McDonald’s childhood home. The 596th franchise, it opened just around the time Dick retired.

Dick returned to Bedford, N.H., a suburb of Manchester, and married his sweetheart from West High School. One day he took his step-grandson to the South Willow Street McDonald’s. He lost a lot of points with the boy because he not only had to stand in line, he had to pay.

Mac lived out the rest of his life in Califiornia.

Dick was once asked if he regretted selling out to Kroc. Not at all, he replied. “I would have wound up in some skyscraper somewhere with about four ulcers and eight tax attorneys trying to figure out how to pay all my income tax.”

In the 2017 film The Founder, Richard McDonald is played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch portrays Maurice McDonald. (To see a trailer, click here.)

Today there are 36,899 McDonald’s that serve  about 69 million customers every day.

Photos: 1953 McDonald’s at Night by Bryan Hong (Brybry26) - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1815290, Daytime Downey’s McDonald’s By Northwalker - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30512113

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