January 23, 2017

How McDonald’s put fries in the freezer and meals in motion to change the way the world eats:

BURGER ASSEMBLY

Turning art into science, 1948

The McDonald brothers’ “Speedee Service System” applied Henry Ford’s method to burgers, assigning discrete steps to each worker, supported by equipment like lazy Susans and infrared warming lights.

MEALS IN A BAG

Putting the knife in sit-down dining, 1948

The pioneering brothers replaced glassware and silverware with disposable utensils, eliminating the need for dishwashers or bussers and introducing Americans to a plateless, tableless mobile meal.

GOLDEN ARCHES

Building a highway-compatible culture, 1952

Kroc wanted the swooping arches to be visible from the highway–and as ubiquitous as church steeples. It wasn’t until the 1960s that they migrated side by side to become the now iconic M-shaped brand.

FROZEN FRIES

Finding profits in uniformity, 1966

Kroc’s decision to ditch fresh for frozen fries made them one of the company’s most profitable menu items. Today, Americans eat an average of 29 lb. of fries (of all varieties) every year.

POWDERED MILK SHAKE

Cutting down on costs, 1971

After ousting the McDonald brothers, Kroc transitioned from fresh milk to powder to eliminate the high cost of industrial refrigerators. The change wasn’t permanent: today’s shakes are made with real milk.

–Eliza Berman

This appears in the January 30, 2017 issue of TIME.

Write to Eliza Berman at eliza.berman@time.com.

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