It seems like all of our childhoods are tied together by one common denominator: a love of fast food. There’s something about a trip to McDonald’s that appeals to the kid in us, and the smell of a McDonald’s alone oftentimes brings back childhood memories of trips to the fast-food chain. But if there’s been one constant over the years, it’s the fact that things constantly change, and fast-food menus are no exception.
We dug deep into the Internet’s version of memory lane and were able to track down classic menus from beloved fast-food chains, most dating back around 50 years, to the late 1950s and early 1960s. What we found was ultimately quaint and nostalgia-inducing, reminding us not only of how much things have changed since then, but how much larger portions have grown as well.
Back during the era of Beatlemania, the Big Mac didn’t yet exist, nor did the Happy Meal. The centerpiece of the McDonald’s menu was the simple "pure beef hamburger," still a classic but no longer really considered a meal unto itself. And there was a time not too long ago when (believe it or not) Dairy Queen only sold ice cream.
While some menus were limited by design (see White Castle, for example), others have been whittled down in interesting ways over the years. KFC once sold chicken livers and gizzards, for example. And A&W, a vintage fast-food chain if ever there was one, stopped selling pork chops and "Peteza" burgers quite some time ago.
All of these menus (except for the one from Dairy Queen) also include prices. While prices nowadays vary according to region, we got in touch with stores in New York City (unless otherwise noted) to find out what items that remain from the old menus are currently selling for. As always, there were several surprises: Who knew that a plain Nathan’s hot dog, which once sold for just $0.05, now costs $3.42!
Also, if you’re wondering why a chain as large as Wendy’s isn’t on the list, that’s because we tried to track down menus from circa 1960, and Wendy’s wasn’t around until almost 10 years later (Dave Thomas founded the chain in 1969).
So read on for a trip down a burger-fueled memory lane, or to simply get an idea as to how much fast-food menus have changed in the past 50 years. We’ve ranked them in order of which menus have changed the most over time.
Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers.