The fast-food industry in this country has a long and storied history. The founders in this field built mega-empires based on the pursuit of the American dream, and in the process spurred a love-hate relationship that affects most people who live here.
Given the ways that fast food influences everything from American pop culture to politics to dietary trends, it’s fascinating to look back on the origins of the biggest players in the industry. One of the first fast-food chains to emerge was White Castle, founded by Bill Ingram in Wichita, Kan. in 1921; the design of the original White Castle was inspired by the Water Tower building in Chicago.
The novel and efficient system developed by the McDonald’s brothers at their original San Bernardino, Calif., location inspired a handful of other up-and-coming entrepreneurs to try their hand in the industry, namely Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns (founders of Insta-Burger King, which would later become Burger King), Carl Karcher (founder of Carl’s Jr.), Glen Bell (founder of Taco Bell), and James Collins (the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken). But certainly the person most famously inspired by the original McDonald’s was Ray Kroc, who bought the company from the McDonald brothers in 1954 and turned it into the mega-corporation that it is today.
Take a look through this collection to see what the very first locations of your favorite iconic fast-food chains looked like and to learn about how those companies got their start.