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Vintage McDonald’s Photos That Will Give You Nostalgia

Clare Fitzgerald
Photo Credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images

McDonald’s is an iconic part of American history. The first restaurant opened in 1955, and in its 66 years has become a worldwide fast food sensation. Its restaurants have changed a lot, as shown by the following vintage photos. Prepare to experience some real nostalgia.

An iconic restaurant is born

McDonald’s was the brainchild of brothers Dick and Mac McDonald. They operated a burger stand in California when Ray Kroc paid them a visit. He was amazed at how many people were being served and the quality of their food. He pitched them the idea of expanding their business nationwide, leading to the opening of the first McDonald’s restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois on April 15, 1955.

Exterior of a McDonald's restaurant

The first McDonald’s restaurant opened in Illinois in 1955. (Photo Credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images)

Exterior of a McDonald's restaurant

McDonald’s restaurant, 1956. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

The restaurant took off. By 1958, the company had sold its 100 millionth burger, and by 1965 some 700 restaurants were operating across the United States. At present, it’s estimated 39,198 McDonald’s restaurants are operating worldwide, a figure that continues to increase year over year.

Ronald McDonald was almost a cowboy

While it’s hard to picture Ronald McDonald as anything other than a clown, that wasn’t always going to be the case. McDonald’s execs were debating turning him into a cowboy to coincide with the popularity of T.V. westerns. In the end, the decision was made to keep him a clown.

Ronald McDonald balloon fronting in front of a brick apartment building

Ronald McDonald balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, 1986. (Photo Credit: Joe Sohm / Getty Images)

Members of Motörhead standing with a statue of Ronald McDonald

Motörhead with Ronald McDonald, 1983. (Photo Credit: Paul Natkin / Getty Images)

The first person to portray the restaurant’s mascot was Willard Scott, for an ad in a Washington, D.C. market. However, Scott was dropped before the first national ads were released, as the company thought he was too heavy to play the “extremely active” Ronald, according to McDonald’s: Behind the Arches.

Millions of people have worked for the company

For many, McDonald’s was their first job. Most can remember coming home after a shift, smelling of French fries and vowing to never eat another Big Mac. Depending on when you worked, you either wore the old-school white uniform with the hat, or were lucky enough to don the more modern blue shirt and baseball cap.

Hand atop a McDonald's job application

McDonald’s job application, 1988. (Photo Credit: Duane Howell / Getty Images)

Customers lining up at the front counter in a McDonald's restaurant

McDonald’s restaurant in Washington, D.C., 1979. (Photo Credit: PhotoQuest / Getty Images)

Working at McDonald’s is no easy feat. It’s estimated around 68 million people a day eat there, meaning the restaurants are bustling with customers. To put it into perspective, that’s the total population of the United Kingdom!

We love us some Chicken McNuggets

Not to be biased, but our favorite thing to order at McDonald’s are Chicken McNuggets. They were created by René Arend in 1979 and introduced to the U.S. menu in 1981. Due to a supply shortage, they weren’t available in other countries until 1983.

Three men standing in front of stacked styrofoam packaging

Launch of McDonald’s Fried Chicken McNuggets, 1986. (Photo Credit: Fairfax Media Archives / Getty Images)

Four Chicken McNuggets in a cardboard container

“New” Chicken McNuggets with less fat and calories, 2003. (Photo Credit: Chris Hondros / Getty Images)

According to McDonald’s, nuggets come in four shapes: the bell, the ball, the bow-tie, and the boot. While you might assume this is for aesthetic purposes, the reason is actually more practical. The different sizes ensure consistent cooking times for food safety.

A favorite of politicians

Politicians make all sorts of campaign stops, so it comes as no surprise many have chosen to make a pit stop at McDonald’s. All that political work certainly works up an appetite.

Pat Buchanan and his wife, Shelley, eating at a table at McDonald's

Pat Buchanan and his wife eating at McDonald’s, 1996. (Photo Credit: Chris Wilkins / Getty Images)

Nancy Reagan with her hand over her face

Nancy Reagan makes a stop at McDonald’s while on a nationwide campaign to raise awareness about drug abuse, 1984. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

One of the more memorable moments came in 1984 when First Lady Nancy Reagan made a stop at an Atlanta McDonald’s during her nationwide tour to raise awareness about drug abuse. While many questioned her about her husband‘s policies, according to the New York Times she was dedicated to the issue at hand, saying, “I didn’t mean this trip to take on a political tone. I’m here for drugs.”

The Big Mac is over 50 years old

2021 marks the Big Mac’s 53rd birthday. The iconic burger official made its menu debut in August 1968, a year after it started being served at a McDonald’s in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. It has since become a fastfood staple.

Woman looking doubtfully at a Big Mac

Woman doubtful of the Big Mac, 1981. (Photo Credit: Manchester Daily Express / Getty Images)

Three female McDonald's employees bagging hamburgers

Workers bagging burgers, 1973. (Photo Credit: San Francisco Chronicle / Getty Images)

Looking to impress your friends with your knowledge of the Big Mac? Get a load of these fast facts. First off, it was created by Jim Delligatti as a way of feeding steelworkers. Second, the “Special Sauce” didn’t get its nickname until 1974 and over the years has had different iterations.

Finally, a Wisconsin man named Donald A. Gorske has eaten over 30,000 since the 1970s. Now that’s a lot of Big Macs!

Wedded bliss

Some people love McDonald’s so much they’ve chosen to walk down the aisle and say “I do” within its walls. In August 2021, an Ontario, Canada couple wed while driving through a McDonald’s drive-thru, and many restaurants in the U.S. will host weddings for regulars who truly “love” their food.

Couple in wedding attire in front of the McDonald's golden arches

Couple getting married at McDonald’s, 1975. (Photo Credit: Boston Globe / Getty Images)

In Hong Kong, McDonald’s restaurants are offering wedding packages, which include guest invitations and favors, a tiered apple pie wedding cake, and balloon bouquets. Talk about fancy!

The most popular item is…

It might come as no surprise the most popular item offered at McDonald’s are the fries, but which other selections make the list? Turns out, the Big Mac holds the second spot, while the Snack Wrap takes third – how that beats out the Happy Meal is beyond us.

Fries, a Big Mac and a soda

Big Mac meal, 1992. (Photo Credit: Bernard Annebicque / Getty Images)

Woman handing a man a soda at a drive-thru window

McDonald’s drive-thru, 1992. (Photo Credit: Roger Hutchings / Getty Images)

Not letting the dessert items go ignored, the restaurant’s signature apple pie firmly holds the sixth spot, despite its recipe being changed over the years. For those wondering why the McFlurry isn’t on the list, the answer is quite simple: the ice cream machine is always broken!

The happiest children’s meal

Many of us have fond memories of our parents taking us to McDonald’s for dinner. We looked forward to opening that red and yellow cardboard box, digging into our fries, and playing with the latest toy McDonald’s was giving away.

Food atop a table featuring McDonald's characters

Children eating food at McDonald’s, 1996. (Photo Credit: Mark Peterson / Getty Images)

Happy Meals were released in the U.S. in 1979 and included a burger, fries, soda, and cookies, along with a small toy. Much has changed over the years, such as the inclusion of healthier options, such as milk, yogurt, and apple slices. The toys can also be swapped out for a book.

Exterior of a McDonald's restaurant at night

Exterior of the first McDonald’s restaurant, 1955. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Bonus fact: The most popular Happy Meal toys on record were the TY Teenie Beanie Babies.

The ultimate rivalry

The biggest fast-food rivalry is the one between McDonald’s and Burger King. There has been much debate about whether the Big Mac or the Whopper is better, and the companies have been at odds for decades.

Burger King advertisement across from McDonalds

Burger King unveils controversial advertising campaign outside of McDonald’s headquarters, 1998. (Photo Credit: Peter Jordan – PA Images / Getty Images)

More from us: American Takeout: Classic Fast Food Chains That Bit The Dust

Both have released advertising campaigns aimed at one-upping the other, including the memorable 2019 ad, where Burger King “revealed” its Whopper had been concealing a Big Mac behind it, in the aim of showing its much larger size. It had previously tried much more controversial measures, placing ads outside of McDonald’s headquarters in 1998.