Richard McDonald Biography

(Co-Founder of McDonald's)

Birthday: February 16, 1909 (Aquarius)

Born In: Manchester, New Hampshire, United States

American entrepreneur and restaurateur Richard McDonald joined his elder brother, Maurice McDonald, to launch the path-breaking fast food company McDonald's. The brothers were raised in poverty and initially wished to make it big in the film-making business. They had even bought a theater but sold it due to lack of business. After the launch of the first McDonald's restaurant in San Bernardino, California, in 1940, the brothers introduced the assembly-line production of fast food and removed carhops, thus creating the Speedee Service System and reducing wait time for food significantly. The concept was a hit with customers. Richard had also worked with architect Stanley Meston to design the signature McDonald’s neon golden arches. With McDonald’s, the brothers invented the modern “fast food” system. Their business associate Ray Kroc later became their sole franchise agent and bought the company name and operating rights in 1961. Richard later married and lived a quiet life till his death at 89.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Richard James McDonald

Died At Age: 89


Spouse/Ex-: Dorothy McDonald (m. 1965)

father: Patrick J. McDonald

mother: Margarete McDonald. Patrick

siblings: Maurice McDonald

Born Country: United States

Retailers American Men

Died on: July 14, 1998

place of death: Bedford, New Hampshire, United States

U.S. State: New Hampshire

Cause of Death: Heart Attack

Childhood & Early Life

Richard James “Dick” McDonald was born on February 16, 1909, in Manchester, New Hampshire, US, to Irish immigrant parents, Patrick J. McDonald and Margarete McDonald. Patrick and Margarete had moved to the US as children.

Richard’s elder brother, Maurice “Mac” Mcdonald, was born in 1902, and later became his business partner. The brothers also had 3 sisters.

The McDonald brothers were raised amid poverty and could not complete their education. Their father, Patrick, worked as a shift manager at the Manchester-based G.P. Krafts shoe factory and was laid off after 42 years of employment.

Facing unemployment in the later years of his life, Patrick had also been left without a pension and needed another source of income. The family thus moved to California in the 1920s.

Interestingly, the brothers were not initially interested in the food business. When they first moved to California, they experimented with the movie industry. They wanted to direct and produce films and thus found themselves small jobs at the Paramount and Columbia studios.

They earned about $25 a week by working menial jobs on the sets of silent films. The brothers saved whatever little they could and decided to buy a movie theater.

They purchased the 750-seat Mission theater, about 20 miles away from Los Angeles, added a snack bar to it, and renamed it the Beacon. The theater opened in 1930, but the brothers still could not pay their bills due to losses because of the Great Depression. After 7 years, the brothers sold the movie theater and decided to invest in the food business.

In 1937, Patrick and the McDonald brothers opened a hot dog stall in Monrovia, to serve the crowd in and around the Santa Anita race track in Arcadia. However, the stand ran out of business after the racing season ended.

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After their first hot dog stand turned into a lukewarm business, Maurice decided to launch a bigger hot dog stand in San Bernardino, which was a large working-class town. After being denied loans by several major banks, the McDonald brothers eventually managed to get a loan from Bank of America. Thus, in 1940, equipped with $5,000 in capital, the brothers launched a drive-in restaurant in San Bernardino.

The restaurant, known as McDonald's Barbeque, catered to people who would drive in with their cars. It had a 25-item menu. The brothers used uniforms from their previous movie theater for the carhops they employed in their food joint. Soon, they realized that their burgers were their top-sellers.

In 1948, the McDonald brothers temporarily shut the restaurant for renovations. Soon, they reopened it with drastic changes. The new McDonald’s sold a limited menu of hamburgers, French fries, and milkshakes.

Though it still catered to people arriving in their cars, the customers now had to collect their food at the counter. There were no waiters or carhops. The food was pre-cooked and heated, while the assembly-line production system reduced wait time significantly.

The brothers named this system the Speedee Service System, which later came to be known as the “fast-food system.” Their innovations allowed them to charge just 15 cents for their basic hamburger, which was almost half the price their rival restaurants were charging.

McDonald’s soon became a hit with customers, and the McDonald brothers contemplated starting a franchise program.

The brothers bought the appliances for their McDonald’s restaurant from a salesman named Ray Kroc. Kroc was amazed at the demand this small restaurant had for shake mixers and decided to see how a small shop could have such brisk business.

In 1954, Kroc visited the restaurant and realized it held great promise. By then, the McDonald brothers had launched a few franchises and outlets. However, they had only franchised the system and not the brand.

Kroc soon became the brothers’ sole franchise agent and opened McDonald’s Systems, Inc. in April 1955, followed by the launch of his first McDonald’s franchise in Des Plaines, Illinois.

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In 1960, Kroc changed the name of his franchise corporation to McDonald's Corporation. In 1961, he bought the entire business and rights of McDonald’s from the McDonald brothers for $2.7 million.

Though the McDonald brothers had both equally worked hard to build their fast-food business, it was Richard McDonald who had hired architect Stanley Meston to design their neon golden arches that he wanted to see rising from the sides of their hamburger stand.

The arches, along with the Speedee chef mascot, drew in their customers till 1962. As soon as McDonald’s was sold to Kroc, the Speedee chef was removed. This was followed by a re-modeling of the golden arch.

The McDonald brothers still owned a food stall, but as they had sold the McDonald’s operating rights and trademark to Kroc, they changed the name of their stall to The Big M. They eventually went out of business due to competition from McDonald’s. Following this, the McDonald brothers quit the restaurant business.

Personal Life

Richard McDonald was married to Dorothy Jones of Bedford. He was also stepfather to Dorothy’s son, Gale French, who lived in Belchertown, Massachusetts.

Richard also had 2 step-grandchildren. However, neither he nor Maurice had any biological children of their own.

Later Life, Death, & Legacy

Since there was not much to do in California after the brothers quit their restaurant business, Richard McDonald moved back to his home state, New Hampshire. He spent the rest of his life in Bedford, New Hampshire, in a modest 3-bedroom house. The remainder of his life was thus relatively quiet.

On November 30, 1984, Ed Rensi, the then president of McDonald's USA, served the ceremonial 50 billionth hamburger of McDonald’s to Richard, who had apparently cooked the first McDonald's burger. The event was held at New York’s Grand Hyatt hotel.

Richard’s brother Maurice died in 1971, while Richard died of a heart attack on July 14, 1998, in a nursing home in Manchester, New Hampshire, at age 89. Richard left behind an estate worth $1.8 million. He lies buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery, Manchester, New Hampshire.

Till his death, in-spite of the bitter rivalry from Ray Kroc that ended his food business, he did not have any grudge against him. The 2016 biopic on Ray Kroc, named The Founder, had actor Nick Offerman playing Richard McDonald. The first McDonald's outlet is now a museum.

See the events in life of Richard McDonald in Chronological Order

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