EMPEROR of Burgers

For many Americans in the 1950s, eating out was no longer a question of sitting in a fine restaurant and enjoying great gastronomy . In fact, it was more Eat’n’Run. Uniform, efficient and ‘value for money’ was the future. Ray Kroc was the man who first saw the opportunities and made McDonald's the biggest fast-food chain in the world, with a global turnover of nearly DK 150 billion. Loved my almost everyone – and hated by nutritional experts. BY CLAUS VESTERAGER MARTINUS PHOTOGRAPH: GETTY IMAGES
Ray Kroc McDonald’s
Ray Kroc in front of one of the many hundreds of McDonald’s franchise restaurants that he opened. The first to open was in Des Plaines in Illinois in 1955.

Phrenology is a pseudoscience involving the measurement of bumps on the skull to predict mental traits. Most people would shake their heads at this kind of thing but not Ray Kroc’s father, for him it was true as the light of day. Whether genuine psychological insight was gained or it was just pure luck no one will ever know, but the phrenologist stated that young Ray would have a future in the foodservice industry.

And it turned out to be true. And then some! Because when Ray Kroc came across a burger bar in San Bernardino, California, he figured out the concept and copied it. Today, there are more than 30,000 Mc- Donald’s. Restaurants spread across 119 countries and McDonald’s is the world’s biggest fast food company.

In 1960 there were 228 restaurants in the USA with a total turnover of USD 37 MILLION.

Even though Ray Kroc is credited as being the founder of McDonald’s, this isn’t strictly true. In reality, it was two brothers, Richard and Maurice McDonald who started the McDonald’s chain.

The first restaurant was opened in 1940 and of course, was called McDonald’s. The brothers perfected the production, focused on uniform quality, cleanliness and a hamburger that cost 15 cents. And they did really well in the years following the Second World War. In 1953, they introduced the golden arches logo that would become famous. While they dreamed of creating a franchise business they did not really have the drive or energy to make it happen. This is where Ray Kroc came into the story – in 1955 to be precise.

McDonald’s Ray Kroc
In 1965 there were more than 700 RESTAURANTS.

Seller of God’s mercy

Kroc was 53 years old. He described himself as a diabetic with osteoarthritis who had lost his gall bladder and thyroid gland. He had spent most of the previous decade travelling the country selling multimixer milkshake machines. And he also visited the McDonald brothers to try and make them customers. He was quickly impressed by the brothers’ hamburger stand in San Bernardino. Very impressed. So much so that during the night, staying at yet another motel, he thought his ideas through and realised how he could via franchising, spread McDonald’s to the rest of the USA. The brothers liked his idea and Kroc began his crusade to sell Mc- Donald’s restaurants to the rest of America. The first franchise restaurant was opened in Des Plaines, Illinois in 1955. It went on to become the most successful McDonald’s restaurant in the USA. At the same time it marked the beginning of a phase of phenomenal growth.

McDonald’s Ray Kroc
In 1977 Bic Mac and fries were served at over 5,000 LOCATIONS IN THE USA.

Kroc’s secret

Ray Kroc realised profit could be generated if food was industrialised; if it was produced with almost military precision. While one person fried burgers, other person would make fries and a third person would ‘build’ the burger with ketchup and mustard and then wrap it in paper. Another person would also make the milkshakes and one person would sell and serve the meals to customers. The whole process would operate like a conveyor belt in a factory.

As a franchise owner, Kroc looked for people who were willing to leave a good job to sell burgers and fries at McDonald’s. They were not rich and therefore had to work hard to achieve success. This strategy was a great fit for the American concept of “the self-made man” who fights his way to the top.

McDonald’s Ray Kroc
In 1981 the first McDonald’s restaurant opens in Denmark. Today there are 89 MCDONALD’S RESTAURANTS IN DENMARK. There are plans to open 20 more in the coming years.

Perhaps this was why Kroc refused to employ any people who had a university education throughout his reign at McDonald’s. He believed rightly or wrongly, that universities did not have the ability to provide students with the right competitive spirit or the finesse that marketing work required in the real world.

The McDonald brothers sold their stake in the business in 1961 for USD 2.7 million, a huge amount at the start of the 60s. But this was nothing in comparison to McDonald’s current value of USD 400 billion dollars. Ray Kroc would remain the director of the world’s most successful restaurant chain until 1977.

Big Mac McDonald’s Ray Kroc
GLOBALLY, YOU CAN EAT A BIC MAC at more than 30,000 locations. The chain serves 50 MILLION CUSTOMERS every day.


McDonalisering. Working Poor. Low nutrition quality. Obesity epidemic. McDonald’s has been blamed for a lot over the years. And perhaps there was also a grain of truth in some of it. McDonald’s has also changed the high street in Denmark. Fast food restaurants, coffee shops, 24-hour kiosks that are part of major international chains are an increasing feature in streets and city squares. It is becoming more difficult for independent stores to thrive against the competition. In terms of ingredients, McDonald’s is so large a buyer, for example of chicken, that it has gained huge influence over the producers. Something that also has influence in areas such as animal welfare, prices, etc. When McDonald’s fought to become established in the USA, it was not wages that attracted workers. With the slogan ‘If you can lean, you can clean’, the chain also gained a reputation for being a relatively tough workplace.

Ray Kroc McDonald’s
Ray Kroc died in 1984.

But the most enduring criticism is almost certainly a nutritional one, Most people will remember the prize-winning documentary ‘Super Size Me’ where the director Morgan Spurlock ate three supersize meals a day at McDonald’s for several weeks (up to 5,500 calories a day). The results were frightening. In just a month he gained 10 kg and his cholesterol level exploded.

The film caused McDonald’s to remove super-sized menus in the USA and over time, the chain introduced healthier choices on the menu. Nevertheless, many researchers believe that the McDonald’s concept along with other large chains share a great deal of responsible for Americans being the “heaviest” people in the world today. Even so, the commercial success was very real. Studies have shown that nearly every 8th American has at one time or another worked for McDonald’s. The clown Ronald McDonald was introduced at the start of the 60s and 96% of American children associate the clown with McDonald’s. Unsurprisingly, since huge numbers of families with children have used McDonald’s for years.

Ronald McDonald
Ronald McDonald has been a part of the company's marketing since 1963. More than 95% of American children and young adults associate the clown with the McDonald’s chain.
McDonalds The Founder
Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc in the film The Founder.

Even though the founder of McDonald’s created a global success, which economists have used to calculate purchase power in a country’s currency in relation to the price of a Big Mac, Ray Kroc did not become an icon like Apple’s founder Steve Jobs. Nevertheless, loved by families with children and hated by nutritional experts, Kroc has certainly left his mark on the world economy. And the story of a selfmade man has always been loved in Hollywood.

In 2017, Michael Keaton played the main part as Ray Kroc in a - quite unexpected – fine feature with the title‘The Founder’.

McDonalds The Founder
The McDonald brothers opened the first McDonald’s hamburger stall in 1940. They are played by John Lynch and Nick Offerman in the film.

Perhaps rather too quickly, the film was removed from the cinemas and made available on various streaming services. It is actually a gentle portrait of the tireless Ray Kroc, who travelled from town to town, selling his milkshake machines. It shows the meeting with the McDonald brothers and how he optimised their production of burgers and fries.

It is a portrait of a man who when given the opportunity, also developed into top businessman. The film uses the fact that Kroc himself used the titleThe Founder despite the initial partnership with the Mc- Donald brothers. The partnership should have given them lifelong income of 1% of the turnover in the McDonald’s chain. But they never saw one cent of the money. The film focuses on the American Dream rather than criticises it. It is a feelgood movie about Kroc and charismatic underdog who achieves success. Michael Keaton delivers a fine performance as the little man who makes good. So forget all about ‘Super Size Me’ and enjoy the film – ideally with a Big Mac and a Coca-Cola!

McDonalds The Founder
Film poster from the 2017 portrait of Ray Kroc.