Inventor of the First Fast Food Restaurant – You get out of school and head straight to soccer practice. Your dad picks you up after practice, and your stomach is grumbling. But you have to head directly to your sister’s piano recital instead of home. How can you satisfy your hunger? It looks like the drive-through at a fast food restaurant may be in your future.
Given the pace of today’s modern society, many of us are constantly on the go. When it comes to meal time, we often don’t have enough time to head home to prepare a meal. Instead, we look for the nearest fast food restaurant to grab a quick meal in between activities.
The world didn’t always move at such a fast pace, though. So does that mean fast food restaurants are a relatively-new invention? Not exactly! You might be surprised to learn how far back the history of fast food restaurants stretches.
Restaurants in some shape or form have been around for most of human history. Catering to travelers, inns and taverns served food to guests dating back to ancient Greece and Rome.
It was not until 1921 in Wichita, Kansas, that the fast food restaurant was born in the form of the first White Castle restaurant, founded by short-order cook Walter Anderson and former reporter Edgar W. “Billy” Ingram. Up until that time, hamburgers were mainly sold at fairs and from food carts, and most people considered them to be a low-quality food.
White Castle aimed to change America’s view of the hamburger. The first White Castle restaurant featured an open kitchen area where customers could see their food being prepared.
Fast food didn’t catch on immediately, but it did begin to slowly develop along with the popularity of the automobile. As Americans became more mobile, frequent traveling led to a desire for quicker food on the go.
The assembly-line system of food preparation we associate with modern fast food restaurants didn’t come about until the original McDonald’s got its start in the 1940s. Inspired by the efficiency of producing a limited number of menu items with a focus on quality, Ray Kroc The first McDonald’s franchise restaurant opened its doors in Des Plaines, Illinois, in 1955.
It wasn’t long before other popular fast food restaurants started popping up. Burger King and Taco Bell got started in the 1950s. Wendy’s first opened its doors in 1969.
One feature of modern fast food restaurants familiar to most children today is the drive-through window. The first restaurant to feature a drive-through with a two-way speaker system is considered to be In-N-Out Burger, a popular California franchise that opened in 1948.
Today, fast food restaurants are extremely common. In some populated areas, you may see them on every single street corner. Experts estimate the United States alone has over 300,000 fast food restaurants. The industry as a whole accounts for billions of dollars in sales worldwide each year.
Try It Out
Are you hungry yet? Dig into the following activities with a friend or family member:
- How many fast food restaurants are near your house? Do a quick survey. Look at a map of your area and draw a circle that marks off an area around your house that extends for two miles in every direction. Ask an adult friend or family member to drive you around that area. How many fast food restaurants do you count? Depending upon where you live, this could be a very small or a very large number. If you live in a metropolitan area, you could easily restrict your search area to a few blocks rather than a few miles. For fun, categorize the fast food restaurants in your area by the type of food they serve.
- Fast food restaurants often get a bad rap for serving food that’s unhealthy. But is all fast food unhealthy? You be the judge. Ask an adult friend or family member to take you on a field trip to a local fast food restaurant. Pay particular attention to their entire menu of food choices. If you can find a fast food restaurant that has a printed menu with nutritional information, even better! NOTE: You may have to ask a manager for this information. What percentage of menu items would you consider healthy? What healthy food choices could you make? Have fun learning more about fast food menu choices!
- Up for a challenge? Design your own fast food restaurant! You’ve probably been to many different types of fast food restaurants in your life. What do you like about them? What do you dislike? If you could run your own fast food restaurant, what would it be like? What kind of food would you serve? What would be your specialty? Would you cater to kids with special meals and a play place? Or, would you cater to teens with free Internet access and tablet computers to play on? Let your imagination run wild. You never know when your dream fast food restaurant could become the reality of tomorrow!