We Can't Believe How Cheap McDonald's Was When It First Opened

There's a reason McDonald's has been one of the biggest food chains in the world for decades: The company got there first. Though McDonald's actually got its start as a barbecue restaurant, brothers Dick and Mac McDonald quickly shifted gears to become a burger joint once they realized the item that is now their bread and butter was by far their top seller. McDonald's wasn't quite the first fast food restaurant, but it was the first to establish what was essentially the assembly line system that's de rigueur in the industry today.

A look at the early menu pricing for the chain, though, is liable to make a modern-day customer's head spin. You probably guessed the prices were cheap, but the level of low pricing may flabber your gast, with burgers costing as little as 15 cents. This window into early McDonald's pricing also presents a stark contrast to today, where McDonald's prices have skyrocketed over the past decade — far outpacing the rate of inflation over the same period.

Nothing on the original McDonald's menu cost more than 20 cents

McDonald's first-ever restaurant was reborn as a museum, designed to provide a window into what it was like to get a meal at the Golden Arches back then. The San Bernardino, California site may have been the first-ever McDonald's burger joint in 1948 — converted from the original 1940 barbecue restaurant — but it wasn't until Ray Kroc bought the business in 1955 and opened its first franchise location in Des Plaines, Illinois, that the company started to grow into the global success we know today.

It is, however, important to note that McDonald's early offerings were a whole lot more limited than its modern incarnation. There were only nine items — 11 if you count each milkshake flavor as a distinct menu option. Those milkshakes were the priciest thing available at a hefty 20 cents each. In fact, all but three menu items were beverage options, including root beer, orangeade, Coca-Cola, coffee, and milk, each costing 10 cents.

The only food items on offer? A hamburger at 15 cents, a cheeseburger at 19 cents, and an order of French fries at 10 cents. If a customer bought the most expensive version of everything for a full meal (cheeseburger, fries, and milkshake), it would have cost a grand total of 49 cents.

Today's prices have skyrocketed compared to these early ones

Compare these early prices to the price increases in just the last decade. According to FinanceBuzz, the average price of a medium fries has gone up by 138% from $1.59 to $3.79 since 2014, while a 10-piece McNugget meal is up 83% from $5.99 to $10.99. Nowhere is this trend more obvious than with the McChicken, which is nearly 200% more expensive than it was 10 years ago, having risen in price from $1.19 to $3.19. Even the Big Mac's comparatively minor price increase from $3.99 to $5.99 is a jump of around 50%. It's important to note that all of these increases exceed general inflation over the same period, which, according to FinanceBuzz, sits at 31%.

Granted, there's price variance between each franchise, as FinanceBuzz notes — and McDonald's is insistent they're off the mark, telling Delish, "This is not an accurate representation of pricing at McDonald's restaurants." But even if the increase is half what the numbers claim, it's wild to compare those prices to how cheap a McDonald's meal once was.