Burger King: The Home of the Whopper. This mega-burger chain has locations all across the globe and has seen a lot of ups and downs in its day. It’s also never been afraid to jump into the fray (instigating the famed “Burger Wars” of the 1980s) or to get a little weird (we’ll never be able to get that bizarre “King” mascot out of our heads). But even though you may be familiar with BK and its occasionally wacky ways, we bet that there’s a lot you didn’t know about this legendary company.
Burger King was founded in the 1950s by entrepreneurs James McLamore and David R. Edgerton, based on an earlier chain. They oversaw a rapid expansion until 1967, when the company was sold to Pillsbury. Pillsbury shepherded Burger King through two turbulent decades: They brought in a McDonald’s executive to turn things around with a 1978 restructuring plan called Operation Phoenix, launched a series of attack ads against its competitors in the early 1980s that came to be known as the Burger Wars, and dealt with a major decline in sales and new construction in 1989. Pillsbury sold the company off to a British entertainment conglomerate called Grand Metropolitan in the same year. Sales continued to lag through Grand Met’s merger with Guinness to form Diageo in 1997, and eventually Diageo sold it off to a group of investment firms led by TPG Capital in 2002.
These new owners took the company public (a move that only lasted for four years), launched new products and funky ad campaigns like Subservient Chicken (a website that allowed you to give “commands” to a man in a creepy chicken costume) and opened new restaurant concepts like the kiosk-style Whopper Bar. Several profitable years ensued. Eventually, sales started declining again, and last year Burger King merged with Canadian chain Tim Hortons, with backing from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, in another effort to turn the fast food icon around. It can be safely said that keeping Burger King’s head above water has been an ongoing struggle for decades.
Today, there are about 13,000 Burger Kings in operation in the United States and in 100 additional countries. This number comes in at a distant second place to its closest competitor, McDonald’s, which has about 35,000 outlets worldwide. While it may never catch up to the Golden Arches (which is dealing with some serious problems of its own), Burger King has held its own and will probably continue to do so for a long time. Read on for 10 things you didn’t know about America’s second-largest burger chain.
It Was Inspired by McDonald’s
Burger King’s first incarnation was founded in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1953, after a man named Keith Kramer and his wife’s uncle Matthew Burns visited a little burger shop in San Bernardino called McDonald’s that turned out burgers, fries, and shakes in record time. They purchased the rights to a newfangled broiler that could cook 12 patties simultaneously and opened a burger shop of their own.
It Was Originally All About the “Insta”
The name of that magical broiler was called the Insta-Broiler, and the chain was originally called Insta-Burger King. The “Insta” prefix was removed after the company failed in 1959 and was purchased by its Miami franchisees, James McLamore and David R. Edgerton, who expanded to 250 locations by 1967.