TIME politics

How Donald Trump Became Donald Trump

Jan. 16, 1989
Cover Credit: NORMAN PARKINSON The Jan. 16, 1989 cover of TIME

In 1989, TIME declared the idea of Trump running for president 'farfetched'

Donald Trump’s visit on Thursday to the U.S.-Mexican border is sure to present another opportunity for the presidential candidate—whose trip comes on the heels of divisive statements about Mexican immigrants—to say something incendiary. But, though Trump has recently turned up the volume of his outrageous comments, notably his statements about John McCain’s war record, nothing that he could say should come as a surprise. After all, saying outrageous things is how he got famous in the first place.

And that makes sense. Trump rose to fame in the go-go 1980s, and he was the perfect symbol of that ego-driven era. His outlandish statements about himself were so central to his persona that when he made the cover of TIME, in January of 1989, by which point the real-estate developer had become a celebrity, the article opened with a series of Trump quotations:

“Who has done as much as I have? No one has done more in New York than me.”

“Those who dislike me don’t know me, and have never met me. My guess is that they dislike me out of jealousy.”

“I love to have enemies. I fight my enemies. I like beating my enemies to the ground.”

Just a few short paragraphs after those quotations, the writer, Otto Friedrich — describing interviewing his subject aboard a helicopter that had “TRUMP” emblazoned across its hull — notes that he asked the tycoon: “Have you ever thought about psychotherapy?” (Trump replied that he didn’t have time to think about his problems.)

It wasn’t always like that. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the coverage of Trump news, at least in the pages of TIME, was strictly about real estate. He had gotten his start in his father’s relatively modest real-estate firm, before creating The Trump Organization, his own real-estate firm, in 1981, when he was 35. (Before that, he was well known locally as a Manhattan socialite, but he had yet to make a national splash.) Several TIME articles from the era refer briefly to him as among New York developers involved in various high-priced deals around town.

The first TIME article that dropped any hints about what was to come was published in July 1981, as part of a survey by J.D. Reed of the emergence of high-end, luxury developments around the country:

The ultimate Xanadu may well be the Trump Tower, now abuilding on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan. The top 40 floors of the 68-story building will be given over to condos, some of which will come with private swimming pools. The triplex penthouse apartment will be priced at $24 million. ‘They’re in demand,’ says Developer Donald Trump. A slight understatement. The 263 apartments in Trump Tower will not be completed until January 1983, but there are already 17,000 applicants from all over the world.

By 1983, Trump was being referred to as a “tycoon,” always a sure sign that someone has made it. (The even surer sign, “magnate” would be applied to him more regularly in later years.)

The next year, Trump finally merited his own story in TIME. By then he owned $1 billion in New York real estate, including Trump Tower (where celebs like Johnny Carson and Sophia Loren owned condos). He was still thought of as a tycoon, and not yet as a “personality,” but that was starting to change. TIME noted that his wife Ivana, the first of his three spouses, was a former model; that he wanted to organize a football game bigger than the Super Bowl; that he could not remember ever having failed at something. In surveying Trump’s burgeoning empire, TIME’s John S. Demott wrote that he had attracted some critics—including the lawyer for the city planning commission, who observed that, “Whatever Donald does is absolutely designed to serve his self-interest.”

In 1985, Trump proposed a giant Manhattan project called “Television City” that would have included the world’s tallest building. The project was eventually curtailed, but not before it made news. When plans were submitted, Kurt Anderson — while not outright panning the project — wrote in TIME that Helmut Jahn’s design concept gave the project a “freakish size and glamour that plays well these days only in Las Vegas.” Anderson would go on the next year to co-found Spy magazine, which regularly made great sport of Trump, bestowing upon him the memorable epithet “short-fingered vulgarian.”

The Television City project, and all the others Trump was building or planning at the time, made for perfect vehicles for the developer to brag and promote himself, and to spell out his own name in buildings in gigantic lettering. And, what’s more, it worked: the more out-there he was, the more the media bit. He feuded with politicians like Mayor Ed Koch, and he even made a feint at a presidential run in 1987 while demanding that Japan and Saudi Arabia pay for American defense operations in the Persian Gulf. The following year he invited Mikhail Gorbachev over for dinner, conferring on himself what TIME called “the head-of-state status he has been seeking since he publicly implied in 1985 that his premier dealmaking skills were what the strategic arms reduction talks were missing.”

Trump as we know him had arrived.

He’s continued to evolve, through his rise as a reality-TV star and as he’s stomped his way into national politics. He’s taken to latching onto conspiracy theories and lashing out at others at least as often as he brags about himself. But, even after the culture had largely moved past making automatic heroes out of Gordon Gekko-like business figures, his ’80s-style cockiness never faded.

If anything, it intensified—even though by 1989, when that Trump cover story ran, enough time had lapsed for an assessment of whether his ego and his celebrity matched his real-world accomplishments. That year, Otto Friedrich concluded that they did not:

At 6 ft. 2 in., real estate tycoon Donald J. (for John) Trump does not really loom colossus-high above the horizon of New York and New Jersey. He has created no great work of art or ideas, and even as a maker or possessor of money he does not rank among the top ten, or even 50. Yet at 42 he has seized a large fistful of that contemporary coin known as celebrity. There has been artfully hyped talk about his having political ambitions, worrying about nuclear proliferation, even someday running for President. No matter how farfetched that may be, something about his combination of blue-eyed swagger and success has caught the public fancy and made him in many ways a symbol of an acquisitive and mercenary age.

It might be just as farfetched now for him to be running for president as it was then. The difference today, of course, is that he’s actually doing it.

TIME Economics

These Were the 6 Major American Economic Crises of the Last Century

From the Great Depression to the Great Recession, these events changed the economic world

A recent popular (and highly debatable) meme among economic observers is that financial crises now come every seven years. If that’s the case, we could be hit by a new one any day now. Whether or not the seven-year theory is strictly accurate, many economists are warning that another crisis is coming soon—and we’ve definitely been through the cycle before.

Here’s a look at how TIME covered six of the worst crises to hit the United States in the last century, at the moments when things looked their bleakest:

 

  • 1929: The Crash of ’29

    The Great Crash
    Hulton Archive / Getty Images Oct. 29, 1929: Workers flood the streets in a panic following the Black Tuesday stock market crash on Wall Street, New York City.

    Nobody knew, as the stock market imploded in October 1929, that years of depression lay ahead and that the market would stay seized up for years. In its regular summation of the president’s week after Black Tuesday (Oct. 29), TIME put the market crash in the No. 2 position, after devastating storms in the Great Lakes region. TIME described the stock-swoon this way: “For so many months, so many people had saved money and borrowed money and borrowed on their borrowings to possess themselves of the little pieces of paper by virtue of which they became partners of U.S. Industry. Now they were trying to get rid of them even more frantically than they had tried to get them. Stocks bought without reference to their earnings were being sold without reference to their dividends.” The crisis that began that autumn and led into the Great Depression would not fully resolve for a decade.

    Read the Nov. 4, 1929, issue, here in the TIME Vault: Bankers v. Panic

  • 1973: The OPEC Embargo

    Drivers Push Cars To Gas Station During 'Oil Crisis'
    Spencer Grant—Getty Images Drivers push cars to gas station during oil crisis, in Boston, 1973.

    Here’s proof that the every-seven-years formulation hasn’t always held true: The OPEC oil embargo is widely viewed as the first major, discrete event after the Crash of ’29 to have deep, wide-ranging economic effects that lasted for years. OPEC, responding to the United States’ involvement in the Yom Kippur War, froze oil production and hiked prices several times beginning on October 16. Oil prices eventually quadrupled, meaning that gas prices soared. The embargo, TIME warned in the days after it started, “could easily lead to cold homes, hospitals and schools, shuttered factories, slower travel, brownouts, consumer rationing, aggravated inflation and even worsened air pollution in the U.S., Europe and Japan.”

    Read the 1973 cover story, here in the TIME Vault: The Oil Squeeze

  • 1981: The Early-’80s Recession

    JUN 17 1980, JUN 19 1980; Unemployment - Denver; David Barrett passing through Denver lets it be kno
    Ernie Leyba—Post Archive/Getty David Barrett, passing through Denver lets it be known that he is looking for work, on Jun. 17, 1980

    The recession of the early 1980s lasted from July 1981 to November of the following year, and was marked by high interest rates, high unemployment and rising prices. Unlike market-crash-caused crises, it’s impossible to pin this one to a particular date. TIME’s cover story of Feb. 8, 1982, is as good a place as any to take a sounding. Titled simply “Unemployment on the Rise,” the article examined the dire landscape and groped for solutions that would only come with an upturn in the business cycle at the end of the year. “For the first time in years, polls show that more Americans are worried about unemployment than inflation,” TIME reported. A White House source told TIME: “If unemployment breaks 10%, we’re in big trouble.” Unemployment peaked the following November at 10.8%.

    Read the 1982 cover story, here in the TIME Vault: Unemployment: The Biggest Worry

  • 1987: Black Monday

    Black Monday
    Maria Bastone—AFP/Getty Images A trader on the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 19, 1987.

    If the meaning of the Crash of ’29 was underappreciated at the time it happened, the meaning of Black Monday 1987 was probably overblown—though understandably, given what happened. The 508-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average on October 19 was, and remains, the biggest one-day percentage loss in the Dow’s history. But the reverberations weren’t all that severe by historical standards. “Almost an entire nation become paralyzed with curiosity and concern,” TIME reported. “Crowds gathered to watch the electronic tickers in brokers’ offices or stare at television monitors through plate-glass windows. In downtown Boston, police ordered a Fidelity Investments branch to turn off its ticker because a throng of nervous investors had spilled out onto Congress Street and was blocking traffic.”

    Read the 1987 cover story, here in the TIME Vault: The Crash

  • 2001: The Dot-Com Crash

    Dow Jones Average Down
    Chris Hondros—Getty Images A trader rubs his brow on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Jan. 5, 2001, in New York City

    The dot-com bubble deflated relatively slowly, and haltingly, over more than two years, but it was nevertheless a discrete, identifiable crash that paved the way for the early-2000s recession. Fueled by speculation in tech and Internet stocks, many of dubious real value, the Nasdaq peaked on March 10, 2000, at 5132. Stocks were volatile for years before and after the peak, and didn’t reach their lows until November of 2002. In an article in the Jan. 8, 2001, issue, TIME reported that market problems had spread throughout the economy. The “distress is no longer confined to young dotcommers who got rich fast and lorded it over the rest of us. And it’s no longer confined to the stock market. The economic uprising that rocked eToys, Priceline.com, Pets.com and all the other www. s has now spread to blue-chip tech companies and Old Economy stalwarts.”

    Read the 2001 cover story, here in the TIME Vault: How to Survive the Slump

  • 2008: The Great Recession

    Wall Street Reels As Major Financial Companies Face Crisis
    Spencer Platt—Getty Images A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange September 15, 2008 in New York City. protection

    On Sept. 15, 2008, after rounds of negotiations between Wall Street executives and government officials, Lehman Bros. collapsed into bankruptcy. And so did AIG. Merrill Lynch was forced to sell itself to Bank of America. And that was just the beginning. TIME pulled no punches in its September 29 cover story, titled “How Wall Street Sold Out America” and written by Andy Serwer and Allan Sloan. “If you’re having a little trouble coping with what seems to be the complete unraveling of the world’s financial system, you needn’t feel bad about yourself,” the men wrote. “It’s horribly confusing, not to say terrifying; even people like us, with a combined 65 years of writing about business, have never seen anything like what’s going on. They advised readers that “the four most dangerous words in the world for your financial health are ‘This time, it’s different.’ It’s never different. It’s always the same, but with bigger numbers.”

    Read the 2008 cover story, here in the TIME Vault: How Wall Street Sold Out America

TIME Apple

The New Apple Ads Will Make You Feel a Million Feelings

Lionizing the history of music and then some

Ads from big, consumer-oriented tech companies have followed a pattern over the past decade or so—presenting software, services, and gizmos as bringing people together, in perfect harmony. The ads for the new Apple Music service fall right in line.

One of the three new spots features a voiceover from Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (and Beats, which Apple acquired for more than $3 billion) telling us that the service treats music “less like digital bits and more like the art that it is, with a sense of respect and discovery.” And Apple, he says, means to “actually accommodate and support the artists who make the music, and not just the top-tier artists, but the kids in their bedrooms, too.” The implication is that Apple will do this better than services like Spotify.

Whether this turns out to be the case, only time will tell.

In another spot, the focus is entirely on the history of recorded music. It depicts all different kinds of people, in all different kinds of places, enjoying music. It starts with the first phonograph in 1888, and courses through hi-fi systems, jukeboxes, cassette tapes, and computers, and ends with, of course, Apple Music, which is depicted here as the culmination of all this history, the technological endpoint, which of course it isn’t.

The third spot is the most true to the holistic, global vibe that has become obligatory in ads from big tech companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple itself. And it’s the most branding—oriented. It shows people around the world doing things—running, dancing, crying, doing sit-ups—while listening to Pharrell’s “Freedom.” The way the music is muffled for the part showing a woman crying is a nice touch.

Don Draper was depicted in the series finale of Man Men as having created the iconic “Teach the World to Sing” Coca-Cola ad. Being a fictional character, he obviously didn’t, but the way his idea was presented—as being born of true sentiment and a genuine wish for global togetherness, wasn’t really far off reality. He was trying to sell sugar-water, sure. But that’s not all he was doing. And we can presume Apple believes in its own image, too, even as it’s trying to separate people from their money by presenting that image to them. It’s all in the game.

TIME Advertising

These Sausage Commercials Will Haunt Your Dreams

Television set
Getty Images

These spots are the latest entry in the terrify-the-consumer category

If you’ve watched “Mad Men,” or just know anything about the advertising industry, you know that ads historically have appealed to our aspirations. They are the stuff of our dreams. Lately, though, it seems like they want to be the stuff of our nightmares, too.

The latest entry in the terrify-the-consumer category comes from Johnsonville Sausage. The campaign is a serialized Father’s Day tale called “Bratfast in Bed,” depicting a Dad waking up to his family serving him brats. Things quickly get weird as he wakes up repeatedly, apparently from dreams-within-dreams: his sausage comes alive, his family turns into sausages, a giant anthropomorphized brat enters the room to serve him a smaller brat, he himself turns into a sausage, and so on.

The spots of full of perfect (well, in context) little details, as when the big humanoid sausage (which, by the way, has a sausage for a nose) makes little squeaking noises as it moves.

This is a far cry from Johnsonville advertising of yesteryear, which was as realist and pedestrian as could be. Spots from the ’90s might as well have been from the ’50s: Johnsonville eaters were depicted as regular guys who liked campin’ and fishin’:

But everybody’s hopping on the surrealist bandwagon now. “Bratfast in Bed” is “basically sausage ‘Inception’,” Scott Bell, group creative director for Johnsonville’s agency, Droga5, told Adweek. “It’s one man’s journey.”

This campaign comes on the heels of Johnsonville’s equally weird (and generally funnier) “Family” campaign, wherein “non-traditional family” took on a new meaning:

TIME coca-cola

The Iconic Coca-Cola Bottle Is Getting a Surprising Update

Coca-Cola Buys North American Bottling Operations Of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. For $12.3 Billion
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Coca-Cola can and bottle images appear on the side of a trailer outside the Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. bottling facility in Niles, Illinois, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010.

It's pretty sweet

Coca-Cola has come up with a new bottle: one made entirely of plant material—including sugarcane.

It’s called the “PlantBottle.” Coke debuted it as the World Expo in Milan, Italy, a food-tech conference.

Coke said in a statement that the PlantBottle represents a “more responsible plant-based alternative to packaging traditionally made from fossil fuels and other nonrenewable materials.” The company will use the container across its beverage brands: soft drinks, water, juice, and tea.

PlantBottle is “the globe’s first fully recyclable PET plastic bottle made entirely from renewable materials,” said Nancy Quan, Coke’s global research and development officer, in the statement.

The bottles are still plastic, but made from plants including sugarcane and byproducts of processing sugarcane, rather than petroleum products, which leave a much larger environmental footprint. It was developed in partnership with Virent, a processor of biofuels and biochemicals.

Coke made something of a splash in 2009, when it announced that its containers would be made up of 30% plant material. It has sold 35 million of those bottles since then. Coke says those bottles have kept a total of 315,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from being released into the atmosphere.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Coke plans widespread distribution of the bottles by 2020.

TIME Fast Food

These Resurrected Fast Food Mascots Have 1 Thing in Common

McDonald's Hamburglar
McDonalds McDonald's Hamburglar

It's not just that they're back from the beyond

It’s easy to dismiss the recent trend toward bringing back classic corporate mascots like the Hamburglar and Colonel Sanders as indicating a lack of imagination among fast-food marketers. And there’s probably some truth to the comparison between them and the Hollywood studios that insist on unnecessarily remaking movies like Point Break.

But there’s something else going on here, too: in many cases, the mascots are, for some reason, somewhat odd. Burger King’s “The Burger King” was meant to be that way from the get-go (in his most recent incarnation, that is), but Colonel Sanders wasn’t. And yet, look at what they’ve done to him for KFC’s new TV spots:

It’s not just that it’s bizarre of KFC to resurrect its actual, decades-dead founder to make TV spots (that is, if anything in American TV commerialdom can be considered bizarre). It’s the whole vibe. Darryl Hammond, formerly of Saturday Night Live, is surely a talented mimic, but he comes off here as someone you wouldn’t leave alone with your daughter.

Burger King’s most recent resurrection of the imaginatively named “The Burger King” retains his chilling persona, which was devised in the early 2003 as an “ironic” twist on the mascot that the company had employed in various forms (by turns regal and cartoonish) since 1955, when the first Burger King restaurant was opened in Miami. Burger King retired “The Creepy King” (as he was often called) in 2011.

Now he’s back. Burger King paid $1 million to have the King, with his plastic, rictus face, appear as part of boxer Floyd Mayweather’s “entourage” for the fighter’s match against Manny Pacquiao last month. Burger King was one of just three companies that would go anywhere near Mayweather, a convicted domestic abuser. (The others, Swiss watchmaker Hublot and fantasy-sports site FanDuel, limited their presence to brand placement).

You don’t spend $1 million on a one-off, so now the King is back with a new TV spot, too:

The thing about the King is that he amounts to a single joke—one that was sort of funny for a brief period. That was no doubt part of the thinking when Burger King dropped the campaign four years ago. His comeback doesn’t take the character anywhere, because there’s really nowhere for him to go. Contrast that with what Jack In The Box has done with its “Jack’s Back” campaign, which, remarkably, has been running for 21 years. Because Jack actually speaks and has a personality, they can do all manner of things with him, and they have: he’s been a corporate wheel and a basement stoner, all without losing his essential personality.

McDonald’s, meanwhile, has brought back some of its iconic characters, including the Hamburglar, who first appeared as a resident of “McDonaldland” in 1971. Until a few weeks ago, he hadn’t been seen in TV spots since 2002. If the idea is to recall McDonald’s glory days, the natural inclination of brand marketers to “update” everything beyond recognition seems to have sabotaged the goal. The new Hamburglar seems like he was designed by committee, perhaps one headed by Lindsey Naegle from The Simpsons. The formerly impish-but-ultimately-likeable crook is now a mysterious character who has apparently been living in the suburbs, maybe in the witness protection program. He’s roguish and hunky, like something out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel.

In the old days, when brand campaigns were highly expensive, labor-intensive propositions, companies would spend months if not years crafting them before finally settling on something that they meant to least for a long time and be closely identified with the brand. Now campaigns are tried out in public, and if they don’t take, it’s not necessarily a big deal—marketers can just drop them and try something else. And if they run out of ideas, as more of them seem to be doing all the time, they can always go back to the well. It might be lazy, and it might not do much for the brand, but it likely won’t do much damage either.

TIME Cable

The Real Reason You Hate Your Cable Company

Comcast Time Warner Merger Testify
Stephen Crowley—The New York Times/Redux Cable company executives and others who will testify are sworn in at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine Comcast's proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable in Washington on April 9, 2014.

And how to get a better deal out of your service

Yet another survey shows that cable providers are among the most hated companies among consumers.

But it’s not all cable companies—mainly just the big ones. A survey by Consumer Reports ranks Comcast and Time Warner Cable at the very bottom of cable, telephone, and Internet companies. You might remember them as the firms that recently tried to merge, but then withdrew from the deal when it became clear that the government wasn’t going to allow it. Now Time Warner Cable is seeking a merger with Charter Communications, which also fared poorly in the survey.

Comcast and Time Warner landed at the very bottom of the survey along with Mediacom, a regional provider, on consumer attitudes toward bundled services.

Not surprisingly, the survey also found that younger people are far more likely to favor Internet-streamed video over cable, either supplementing their cable viewing with it or dropping cable altogether.

That might be part of the reason that cable companies are apparently very open to negotiating fees with disgruntled customers. Nearly half the respondents who tried such negotiations were successful in getting as much as $50 knocked off their monthly bills, getting a new promotional rate, or getting extra premium channels at no extra cost.

Customers with fiber-to-the-home Internet service like that provided by Verizon FiOS and satellite-TV companies DirecTV and Dish were in general much more satisfied with their service, mainly because of the high data speeds and better reliability.

TIME food industry

This Is the Big Lie About Your Olive Oil

Bottle of olive oil
Sue Wilson—Alamy

New findings cast further doubt

The National Consumers League tested 11 different olive oils purchased at various supermarkets, and found that six of them, despite being labeled “extra virgin,” weren’t extra virgin at all.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given extensive reports of lax standards and outright fraud in the olive-oil business. In fact, the findings are better than some earlier studies that indicated some olive oils were adulterated with other kinds of oil, such as soybean oil, or were made with olives from countries other than Italy, despite label claims of “Made in Italy.”

These practices were revealed in a widely shared New York Times interactive feature last year that was based on a couple of different studies.

The NCL’s testing comes with a load of caveats. It wasn’t a “study” so much as a more-or-less random bit of testing. Puzzlingly, while the NCL listed the five oils that passed the test, it didn’t name the six that didn’t.

That’s because the companies whose products failed the tests made “a huge stink” over the results, said Sally Greenberg, the NCL’s executive director. Those companies complained that only a single bottle of each variety was tested, and so the results were unfair, since occasionally a single bottle will go bad thanks to exposure to light or some other environmental factor. She said the NCL might test the same products again in “six or seven months,” using a different lab, and if the results are repeated, the NCL will reveal which products failed. “If it happens twice, well then maybe we’re on to something,” she said.

In 2011, the University of California at Davis found that about 69% of the olive oil sold in the United States is adulterated.

The NCL tested olive oil purchased in supermarkets in the Washington, D.C. area. None of the products they tested contained any oil that didn’t come from olives, but six of them, despite labels indicated the contrary, didn’t meet the standards for calling it “extra virgin.” The testing included lab analysis and tasting by experts.

“The results of our olive oil testing reveal that, while consumers are buying and paying extra for olive oil labeled EVOO, too much of the olive oil bought off the shelf isn’t the real deal,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the NCL, in a statement.

The five that did pass muster were:

California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Trader Joe’s Extra Virgin California Estate Olive Oil

Trader Joe’s 100% Italian Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Lucini Premium Select Extra Virgin Olive Oil

TIME Gadgets

You’ll Never Guess Who Just Perfected the Keyboard

KFC

Consider eating and typing solved

KFC is furnishing some German diners with Bluetooth-enabled paper keyboards so they can type into their phones and tablets with greasy fingers, obviating the need to hose down their devices with liquid detergent after lunch. It’s a brilliant, weird, slightly disturbing development.

The rechargeable “Tray Typer” replaces the usual piece of paper that comes atop food trays agh the fast-food chain. The product was developed by a company called Serviceplan and used by KFC as part of an ad campaign. Maybe the best thing about Tray Typer is that it’s reusable — after being wiped down, of course. Serviceplan claims that during the campaign in Germany, every single Tray Typer was taken home by consumers.

It seems unlikely that KFC will make Tray Typer a mainstay in its restaurants. It’s basically a constant reminder of how greasy its food is. Not that people don’t realize this, of course, but it’s usually not anything a food company, even one that’s essentially in the grease business, wants to continually highlight.

The Verge called the Tray Typer a “first world solution to a first world problem.”

This isn’t KFC’s first foray into the peripherals business, or even the strangest. In Japan last year, it offered keyboards, mice, and thumb drives in fried-chicken.

TIME Fast Food

Here’s How McDonald’s Became the King of Burgers

Signs are posted on the exterior of a McDonald's restaurant on April 22, 2015 in San Francisco.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Signs are posted on the exterior of a McDonald's restaurant on April 22, 2015 in San Francisco.

As the iconic burger chain turns 75, it faces some of its biggest challenges ever

It is in no way surprising that McDonald’s recent troubles have drawn so much media attention. It’s not just because it’s a huge company, it’s because it is one of a small handful of corporations that are closely associated with the idea America itself, part of our national identity. And that has been the case for most of McDonald’s 75-year history.

There are many reasons for this, but the chief one might have been expressed best by the quotation TIME chose to open its September 17, 1973 cover story on McDonald’s: “The destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they nourish themselves.” The quote came from The Physiology of Taste, written in 1826 by Jean Brillat-Savarin.

 McDonald's 1973
TIME

The cover story was titled “The Burger That Conquered the Country.” At the time—and for decades thereafter—nobody could seriously argue the title’s point. McDonald’s has faced stiff competition all along, from Burger King, from Wendy’s, from Taco Bell, and from any number of other fast-food chains. But none of those competitors ever came close to McDonald’s, especially in terms of image. McDonald’s—even now, when it faces some of its greatest challenges ever—is America’s burger joint.

In the 1973 article (in which McDonald’s main product is rather quaintly referred to as a “ham burger”—two words), TIME declared that if Brillat-Savarin’s quote was correct, “America’s destiny manifestly depends to no small degree on the ham burgers, French fries and milkshakes served beneath the golden arches of McDonald’s.”

Though it would grow much, much larger in the years ahead, McDonald’s was by 1973 a fully realized entity. It employed 130,000 employees in nine countries, and operated 2,500 outlets in the United States. And although Time declared that it “gone from a uniquely American to a truly global operation,” its image remained fully American, as it still does 42 years later—for better and, in some respects, worse.

Our destiny since then has manifested itself largely in our waistlines, a concern that in 1973 was just starting to creep into the national dialogue. The company most often cited by health-conscious critics of our food economy is, of course, McDonald’s. Our economic destiny meanwhile has in recent years manifested itself in the form of a growing wealth gap, with low-wage retail jobs taking the place of vanishing, high-wage manufacturing jobs. The company most-often cited in discussions of this problem (along with Wal-Mart) is, again, McDonald’s.

In the past few years, these trends have hit critical mass, to McDonald’s detriment. Consumer tastes for quick meals remained static for decades. Now they’re changing. Largely motivated by health concerns, but also by the desire for higher-quality eats, diners are increasingly opting for “fast-casual” outlets like Chipotle and Panera Bread. In response, McDonald’s is grasping for solutions that might not exist.

MORE These Are the States With the Most McDonald’s

At the same time, the company is facing pressure on the labor front. In 1973, most of its employees were teenagers working as burger flippers and “window girls.” Now, most of it workers are adults, many of them trying to support families. Last month, the company said it was raising wages and increasing benefits, though that applies only to employees of company-owned outlets, not to franchisees, meaning that most McDonald’s workers aren’t affected.

Officially, McDonald’s traces its history only back to 1955, when businessman Ray Kroc joined the company as a franchise agent. But the first McDonald’s (“McDonald’s Barbecue Restaurant”) actually opened on May 15, 1940, in San Bernardino, Calif. Kroc, impressed by the company’s production-line methods, purchased the chain from the McDonald brothers in 1961, and set about turning it into a burger leviathan.

The chain now includes about 30,000 outlets (14,000 in the United States) in 119 countries and employs about 1.7 million people.

By 1987, TIME was declaring “McDonald’s as a corporation looks more and more like a case study in how to concentrate on providing one service exceedingly well.” Despite all the grief it was taking from critics of its fatty, salt-laden fare and its monolithic corporate image, the company was still largely beloved. “McDonald’s has become such a pervasive reference point in American life that many consumers think of the company as a public institution—one that is often more reliable than the post office or the phone company,” wrote Stephen Koepp.

The company’s growth continued more or less unabated until after the 2008 recession, when the restaurant industry as a whole was hit hard—fast food included. As recently as 2005, TIME was describing fast food as a “quintessentially American dining experience” and a “perfect expression of those bedrock values of efficiency, thriftiness and speed.” Total spending on fast food had quadrupled in the preceding decade.

But even then, fast-food chains—McDonald’s definitely included—saw the writing on the wall, and were working to change their images. Consumers still wanted to dine out, but they were looking for a more pleasant experience, and healthier food. Stores were redesigned, menus were upgraded. Then the recession hit.

Fallen Arches,” read a headline in Fortune magazine last November. “Can McDonald’s Get Its Mojo Back?” The company “has risen to the top of the fast-food chain by being comfortably, familiarly, iconically ‘mass market’ and so ubiquitous as to be the Platonic ideal of ‘convenient,'” wrote Fortune‘s Beth Kowitt. “Neither of these selling points, however, is as high as it was even a decade ago on Americans’ list of dining priorities. A growing segment of restaurant goers are choosing ‘fresh and healthy’ over ‘fast and convenient,’ and McDonald’s is having trouble convincing consumers that it’s both. Or even can be both.”

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So much for “providing one service exceedingly well.” If people don’t want that one service, what’s a company to do? McDonald’s is still looking for answers, from making burgers more customizable to adding various new menu items (and subtracting others) to launching attention-getting promotional campaigns with varying degrees of success.

Kale, of all things, provides a nice microcosm for McDonald’s challenges. Several months back, the company made fun of the trendy, often-mocked “superfood” in TV advertisements. Over a camera close-up of the lettuce on a Big Mac, the narrator intoned: “This will never be kale.” Earlier this month, McDonald’s started test-marketing a breakfast bowl consisting of turkey sausage, egg whites, and … kale.

It seems that McDonald’s still hasn’t decided which one service it wants to provide exceedingly well. But America will likely be watching.

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