McDonald’s Popularity in America during the 1950s



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McDonald’s Popularity in America during the 1950s

Xena Yap

Mr. Knutson

US History CP

Period 3


June 2, 2014

McDonald’s, the world’s most recognized trademark, was first established in 1940 by Richard and Maurice McDonald but later purchased by Ray Kroc in 1955 ("The Ray Kroc Story."). The world wide success of the McDonald’s fast food chain is highly credited to the McDonald brothers who both sought out for a cheap, quicker and more efficient high quality restaurant system. In parallel to their philosophy, American society in the 1950s played a tremendous role in McDonald’s success. The popularity of McDonald reflected the society and highlights of America during that time period. The automobile revolution, the Baby Boom, and the increase in advertisement propelled McDonald’s popularity.

With the production of automobiles back in motion after WWII, the number of cars in the US doubled (coining the term” The Automobile Revolution”), which meant businesses began to shift to meet the rising trend. As more and more people became dependent and attached to their automobiles, many local businesses reevaluated their marketing techniques. Restaurants in the East developed “car-hops” which where waitresses that delivered the meal on foot to customers in parking lots that had been expanded to pack more in. To increase efficiency, car-hops on foot transformed to car-hops on roller stakes, and orders were no longer taken by car-hops but placed “using novel speaker phones located at each parking stall” (F. Love 11). These new innovations show that Americans had become very much attached to their automobiles. The fact that customers were able to enjoy a meal in the comfort of their own car applied to many which helped skyrocket a restaurant’s popularity. Soon McDonald’s followed the craze and instituted a car-hop system which has set them on their way to success. In just a few years, Americans demanded an even quicker and more efficient system. Car-hoppers were indeed efficient and catchy, but soon lost its efficiency when more and more cars piled into the parking lots. They also became a hassle to hire when other new drive-ins competed for them and or there were better paying jobs to take hire them. To combat this, McDonald’s drive-in began the method of “self-service” in which the customer served himself and car-hopers were no longer needed. This reduced the number of staffs McDonald’s had to employ to just cooks; people were able to get their meals much faster since McDonald’s new main focus was on pure speed.

In addition the kitchen was rearranged to meet the maximum speed and efficiency, the menu was cut down from twenty different options to nine. China and flatware were replaced by disposal wares and most effective was the change in price (F. Love 15). This newly renovated kitchen and menu was to accommodate for the reduction of staff. Now that McDonald’s only focus was to produce in a large amount of food in a short time, the assembly line system propelled them to a greater success. Many had found it easier, quicker and cheaper to drive through McDonald’s than a sit-in restaurants or ones with car-hoppers. McDonald’s newly developed system was perfect for “a postwar America that was faster paced, more mobile, and more oriented to conveniences and instant gratification” (F. Love 19). After WWII, the production of cars increased substantially and to take advantage businesses’ transformed themselves such as McDonald has done to draw in a myriad of customers.

As the Automobile Revolution spurs the growing popularity for most businesses, another notable highlight of the 1950s such as the Baby Boom began to influence marketing tactics of businesses too. The Baby Boom was a period of time where birthrates were substantially high; in the U S, nearly 76.5 million babies were born from 1946 to 1964 ("Baby Boom Generation."). As the population in the US grew, businesses yet again revaluated their marketing tactics to carter to the increasing number of children and families. Soon, children and families became the primary target for many businesses, such as McDonald’s. Car-hop workers were mainly teenage girls which had drew in a large amount of teenage costumers to McDonald but had also driven away potential family costumers. To appeal to families once again, McDonald had decided to get rid of their car-hop workers. “With the carhops gone, McDonald’s lost a good bit of it teenage appeal. But it also lost its image as a hangout, which gave it a newfound appeal to a much bigger segment: families” (F. Love 15). Despite McDonald losing their original appeal to teenagers, gaining an appeal to families with many children gave them more popularity and success. Working class families were now able to afford restaurant food for their children now that it has become cheaper and more convenient. (F. Love 16). A larger amount of wealth poured in for McDonald’s because in a family there were more mouths to feed. The newly formed assembly line system worked exceptional with families in a hurry to feed their children.

To increase McDonald’s appeal to family and children, children were ideally appealed to first because parents were essentially obligated to provide what they wanted or needed. It first started with making McDonald’s a restaurant that even young children could handle ordering from. “…In time the kids came in droves to the one restaurant where they could place their own orders,” and in doing so “they could still see [their mothers] in the car, but they also could feel independent” (F. Love 16). McDonald’s has always stressed to their workers to keep a kid friendly atmosphere so that more and more children will favor going to McDonald’s, because there they were able to order without needing their parents. Aside from a friendly atmosphere, McDonald’s advertisements were also featured in children shows and regular showings due to the dramatic increase of television viewing. Many of the McDonald’s advertisement in children shows were promoting giveaways hosted just for them which drew in their hype and excitement. For non-children oriented advertisement, a labor-less option was highly promoted towards parents; specifically mothers. An average American family in the 1950s had about three to four kids which meant more mouths to feed to and to take care of (See Appendix for graph). Mothers during this time have sought for any labor-saving means and McDonald’s was one of them they looked to. McDonald’s was a cheap alternative from cooking a traditional meal which took a good deal amount of time and labor. Going to McDonald’s have saved mothers time and labor to provide for their kids to the point that McDonald have begun to use slogans such as, “Give Mom a Night Off” (Halberstam 163). This emphasizes on the ease mothers can have if they chose to go to McDonald and also how family orientated it has become. With the greater involvement McDonald’s have taken into children during the Baby Doom, they have yet again utilized America’s growing culture.

Not only did accommodating one’s business to suit the rising trend appeal to the growing population of America, advertisement played a huge role in a business’s success and popularity. During WWII there were many consumer goods that were unavailable and or in short supply. Consumer spending had dropped dramatically in America since then, but once WWII was over, consumer goods were once again plentiful and people were starting to spend a little more at a time. To get America’s economic back in motion, advertisement was widely used because it encouraged consumerism. A businesses success relied heavily on advertisement because it was a way for them to be seen and heard by the public. McDonald’s advertisements greatly emphasized that they were cheap and convenient, and going to a McDonald’s was a much easier option to provide food for a family than prepare traditionally for hours in a kitchen. As families became bigger, time for leisure with out without family as a whole was taken out from a mothers’ day to finish up regular housework. Soon people found it labor-saving and time-saving go to McDonald’s; which showed that Americans were in constant search to make life much easier and more time for leisure. Many inventions in the 1950s all had a central theme which was to save time and labor. In parallel to that, McDonald’s was just the thing and that aspect was a must to advertise as much as possible to attract more customers.

Advertisements such as McDonald’s “Let’s Eat Out!” shows a family in a car driving to McDonald’s for dinner. This advertisement is not only promoting a labor-saving option, but it is also utilizes the automobile trend and the Baby Boom. Much of McDonald’s advertisements along with other companies are all generally focusing on what they can utilize with current trends to appeal to more customers. In order to attract customers by the use of advertisement, a company should first integrate the current trend and by any means and exploit the method as media possible. Media such as television was widely used for advertisement as the average children spend 1.5 months a year watching television (Schlosser: Fast Food Nation). The slogans made by McDonald’s were soon made and shown on television which, “[reflected] the thrust of the business: ‘Give Mom a Night Out,’ and then ‘Give Mom a Night Off’” (Halberstam 163). As advertisement grew, so did many businesses grow thanks to the recognition provided by advertising to a large population via television and more. McDonald’s was then known to be a reliable rest stop for families to spend quality time for cheap and with no hard work at all thanks to advertisement.

Continuing on from the 1950s, McDonald’s success and popularity still increases substantially as they continue to utilize current trends. Just like the McDonald’s in the 1950s had appealed to the automobile revolution and to families through the means of accommodations and advertisement. McDonald’s as the years go by the audience they have appealed to expands, taste changes and new trends arise they have always made it a goal carter to the change. As years went on since the 1950s, different ethnic groups were soon used in advertisement to show that they are well rounded and welcoming of others. Advertisement such as “She Deserves a Break Today” features an African American family. The advertisement still utilizes the same theme that going to McDonald’s will be labor-saving to families but not to just white privileged families. “She Deserves a Break Today” is reaching out to other minorities and is telling them that they are welcomed too. By doing so McDonald’s is expanding their audience. McDonald’s all over the world do not serve the same burgers, fries, and soft drinks. This is so that places like India for example, can enjoy a fast food meal despite that the original McDonald’s burger patties were made from cows. Once again McDonald’s is accommodating their menus and tactics to the hoi polloi as they did in the 1950s which made them this popular and wealthy.

Works Cited

"Baby Boom Generation." - The Early Boomers, The Late Boomers. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 May 2014.
Halberstam, David. The Fifties. New York: Villard, 1993. Print
Love, John F. McDonald's: Behind the Arches. Print.
"The Ray Kroc Story." :: McDonalds.com. Web. 17 May 2014.
"Schlosser: Fast Food Nation - Rural Migration News | Migration Dialogue."Schlosser: Fast Food Nation - Rural Migration News | Migration Dialogue. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 May 2014.
Shmoop Editorial Team. "Society in The 1950s." Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 19 May 2014.

McDonald’s Advertisement Ads

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-xdfub2plous/t4q32mbbe9i/aaaaaaaaaoi/cpegtfvrgbo/s1600/be+the+fun,+friendly+place+for+families..jpeg

Let’s Eat Out!”,



Appendix A (cont’d)

http://fm.cnbc.com/applications/cnbc.com/resources/img/editorial/2011/08/23/43675110-ss_top_ads_20th_century_mcdonalds.jpg

“She Deserves a Break Today”
Appendix B

http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/rv-aj678_popula_ns_20130212155103.jpg

Line Chart of the Average Kid in a Family
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