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Obituary

Dick McDonald; Began Burger Chain

July 15, 1998|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Richard "Dick" McDonald, who with his late brother Maurice "Mac" McDonald started the original McDonald's hamburger stand and invented the drive-in, limited menu fast-food concept in San Bernardino in 1948, has died. He was 89.

McDonald, whose name remains on the global chain although Ray Kroc is credited for its development, died Tuesday in Manchester, N.H. McDonald, whose brother died in 1971, retired to his native New Hampshire after selling all rights to the burger stand to Kroc in 1961.

Dick McDonald was the man who first sketched the golden arches that have become the chain's internationally recognized icon. He also grilled the first hamburger and designed the thermometer to measure how many millions--and then billions--of burgers were sold.

Preservationists succeeded in saving the third McDonald's, built by the two brothers in Downey in 1953, which still has the golden arches, red and white tile walls and towering neon sign crowned by Speedee the Chef in Dick McDonald's original design.

Although McDonald had good relations with the burgeoning company, he remained testy toward San Diego's Kroc, who first bought world franchise rights in 1955 for $2.7 million. Kroc died in 1984.

"Suddenly, after we sold, my golly, he elevated himself to the founder," McDonald complained in 1991.

Kroc, often called the father of fast food, stated in his autobiography "Grinding It Out," that he "founded the McDonald's hamburger chain and built it from a single restaurant in Des Plaines, Ill., to an international operation with billions of dollars in annual sales."

McDonald was right to complain, and Kroc was right to take credit. In an evenhanded if self-serving history of the chain accompanying Tuesday's announcement of McDonald's death, company spokesmen explained:

"The McDonald brothers originated the McDonald's self-service drive-in concept and pioneered an industry. Ray Kroc formed a company that, through the dedication of countless franchisees, company people and suppliers, has grown into the most successful food service organization in the world."

Or as McDonald's Senior Chairman Fred L. Turner put it in 1987: "Mac and Dick came up with the original design, Ray provided the foundation."

McDonald Corp., whose headquarters and company museum now stand near the "single restaurant" Kroc built in Illinois in 1955, has 23,000 restaurants in 111 countries. In 1984 in New York City, Dick McDonald was served the 50 billionth McDonald's hamburger.

The two brothers started out with a barbecue, car-hop restaurant in San Bernardino in 1940. But after the war, as proliferating freeways increased customers' interest in speed of service, they decided to update. In December 1948, they switched to the model concept of self-service and hand-out, drive-in, limited menu and paper plates. They initially offered 15-cent hamburgers, 19-cent cheeseburgers, 20-cent malts and 10-cent packets of French fries.

In 1992, Dick McDonald and his family rededicated the site of their original McDonald's restaurant at 14th and E streets in San Bernardino, now the office of the San Bernardino Light Opera Company, with a plaque and historic McDonald's sign.

They built a total of eight restaurants and sold 20 franchises before they met Kroc, the food service equipment salesman who owned national marketing rights to their milkshake mixers.

The McDonald brothers were prominently profiled in David Halberstam's book "The Fifties," which was made into a six-part series for the History Channel earlier this year.

McDonald is survived by his wife, Dorothy, a stepson, Gale French, and two grandchildren.

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