Fast Food, a History

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Some trace the modern history of fast food in America to July 7, 1912, with the opening of a fast food restaurant called the Automat in New York. The Automat was a cafeteria with its prepared foods behind small glass windows and coin-operated slots. Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart had already opened the first Horn & Hardart Automat in Philadelphia in 1902, but their “Automat” at Broadway and 13th Street, in New York City, created a sensation. Numerous Automat restaurants were built around the country to deal with the demand. Automats remained extremely popular throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The company also popularized the notion of “take-out” food, with their slogan “Less work for Mother”. The American company White Castle is generally credited with opening the second fast-food outlet in Wichita, Kansas in 1921, selling hamburgers for five cents from its inception and spawned numerous competitors. It is arguable because most historians and Secondary School textbooks state that A&W was the first fast food restaurant, which opened in 1919.(E. Tavares)

The hamburger restaurant concept which is most associated with the term "fast food" was created by two brothers originally from Nashua, New Hampshire. Richard (Dick) and Maurice (Mac) McDonald opened a barbecue drive-in in 1940 in the city of San Bernardino, California. After discovering that most of their profits came from hamburgers, the brothers closed their restaurant for three months and reopened it in 1948 as a walk-up stand offering a simple menu of hamburgers, french fries, shakes, coffee, and Coca-Cola, served in disposable paper wrapping. As a result, they were able to produce hamburgers and fries constantly, without waiting for customer orders, and could serve them immediately; hamburgers cost 15 cents, about half the price at a typical diner. Their streamlined production method, which they named the "Speedee Service System" was influenced by the production line innovations of Henry Ford.

By 1954, The...
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