the incredible history of fast food in America

How food got fast Think fast food and it’s likely a few world-beating burger brands spring to mind. Whether it’s drive-in, drive-thru or eat-in, they are today ubiquitous across the globe. But their hearts are in the USA, where McDonald’s, In-N-Out Burger and KFC took the brakes off cooking […]


Think fast food and it’s likely a few world-beating burger brands spring to mind. Whether it’s drive-in, drive-thru or eat-in, they are today ubiquitous across the globe. But their hearts are in the USA, where McDonald’s, In-N-Out Burger and KFC took the brakes off cooking in the 1940s and 1950s, and changed the way we eat forever. Here’s how it happened…



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The first diners were actually static rail dining cars or lunch wagons, which could be moved along to ply their trade in different locations, like a food truck today – but with seating. These gave way to cheap, quick-to-set-up prefabricated buildings. But these new mass-produced diners retained the classic wagon look. Some, like the Rosebud in Somerville, Massachusetts, built in 1941 by the Worcester Lunch Car Company, are still in business today.



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The idea of cleanliness was key. White Castle introduced open kitchens in its bright-white and stainless-steel restaurant, and staff wore spotless uniforms. Its restaurants still look like little white castles today and it’s still going strong with its Original Slider – which is square – named the most influential burger of all time. Oh, and it might have invented the takeout burger too.



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Their secret was speed. To get orders ready in ’30 seconds, not 30 minutes’, in 1948, Richard rebuilt their service area. He marked up a tennis court as their kitchen and made staff act out their jobs until he’d found the most efficient method.



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To fulfil his vision of letting customers order from inside their cars, Harry worked in his garage at night, after spending all day in the kitchen, to create his unique two-way speaker box, single-handedly upping the burger-chain game in 1948. A replica of In-N-Out Burger’s early speaker sign is pictured. Next time you drive up and speak into the little box, remember to salute good ol’ Harry.



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Glen Bell first opened a hot dog stand, Bell’s Drive-In, in San Bernardino, California in 1948. But the canny operator watched lines at a Mexican restaurant across the road and wanted a piece of the action. He convinced the restaurant owners to let him see the recipe for their famous taco. He took what he had learned and opened a new stand under the name of Taco-Tia in late 1951 or early 1952, and launched taco takeout on the world.



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As well as challenging the burger’s dominance as fast food king, the Colonel, as Sanders would style himself, was the first to see the potential of the franchise. In 1952 he sold his chicken recipe to Pete Harman of South Salt Lake, Utah, the operator of one of the largest restaurants in the city.



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He would later travel across the US to market his chicken concept to restaurant owners, who would pay four cents to him for each chicken sold in exchange for the recipe, method and rights to his image in the now-legendary white suit with goatee beard. Pete Harman, the first franchisee, coined the phrases ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ and ‘It’s finger lickin’ good’, which are recognized across the world today.



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The McDonald’s Happy Meal entered the fray in 1979. The combo meal for kids – which typically included a hamburger, cheeseburger or chicken McNuggets, with a side of fries, a child-friendly drink and a toy – came in a highly identifiable bright red box with McDonald’s super-smiley branding. And the kids are still loving it.



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The packaging and toy are frequently part of a marketing tie-in to an existing television show, film or toy brand. In fact, in 2011 McDonald’s was said to be the world’s largest distributor of toys. But it was the concept of the Happy Meal itself that would become iconic. So much so, a whole restaurant would take its much-loved form. The children’s birthday party package was also born – and endures to this day – serving up exclusive invites, Happy Meals, fun, games and even a visit from Ronald.



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Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


The Original Slider may be the world’s most important burgers but innovators White Castle stayed ahead of the curve when it introduced the Impossible Slider in 2018. It’s already on the menu in all of its 420 restaurants. At just $1.99, the plant-based, protein-packed ‘hamburger’ offers an affordable way for steadfast meat-eating burger-lovers to cut down their environmental footprint.



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34/34 SLIDES

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