Answer Man: How did golden arches become McDonald's logo?

News-DemocratMay 12, 2014 

What can you tell me about the origin of the golden arches that the McDonald's restaurant chain uses as its company logo? And why do they use a double arch now while the Belleville restaurant, for example, just has the one big arch outside? -- Logan Setterlund

Ah, looks like we have a young whippersnapper here, unaware of the humble beginnings of this international foodzilla.

When McDonald's served up its first burger in Belleville in October 1961, there were no Chicken McNuggets or Egg McMuffins. Early risers even had to do (horrors!) without their McCafe White Chocolate mochas. You walked up to the window and ordered your 15-cent burger, 10-cent fries and 10-cent Coke.

And what did the original building look like? Nope, no indoor dining room or playground. Along with the big standalone arch which has been saved, the original restaurant at 4422 W. Main St. was a relatively small hamburger stand -- with a smaller golden arch incorporated into the building on each side. So, double arches have been part of the plan from the beginning.

It was a design envisioned by brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald. In 1952, they were looking for a way to make their popular San Bernardino, California, hamburger restaurant more efficient for customers and appealing to passers-by.

Richard reportedly thought an arch would grab people's attention, according to Alan Hess' article in the March 1986 issue of the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. At first, he considered one arch at the front of the building, but then sketched arches arcing through the roof on both sides.

He was so adamant about this idea that he rejected at least three architects who either refused to consider it or wanted to change the look. The McDonalds finally settled on Stanley Clark Meston, who, with assistant Charles Fish, made Richard's vision a reality.

They came up with a design that included two 25-foot yellow sheet-metal arches, which they apparently called "golden arches" even at the start. They also included a third smaller roadside arch sign topped by a character in a chef's hat, known as Speedee.

According to Hess, an architectural historian, "Meston and Fish turned the crude half-circle suggested by Richard McDonald's sketch into a tapered, sophisticated parabola, with tense, springing lines conveying movement and energy."

The first McDonald's restaurant using the new design opened in Phoenix in May 1953. Subsequent franchisees (including Belleville) were required to follow the pattern. And here's the clincher: If you can imagine looking at the building at a certain angle from the side, the building's two arches will sort of blend into an "M" for McDonald.

That's the way things stood until the early 1960s, when the rapidly growing chain wanted a more modern image. By that time, Czech-American businessman Ray Kroc had bought the company for a reported $2.7 million. So, first, it killed off poor Speedee. Then, in 1962, Jim Schindler, the company's head of engineering and design, sketched a drawing of the restaurant's then-typical slanted roof piercing the M-shaped golden arches as its new logo.

As the restaurants grew in size and offerings, the actual arches were dropped from the physical design. But on Nov. 18, 1968, the company came up with the logo that even young fastfood fanatics like you would recognize: A double yellow arch with the company name, "McDonald's," splitting three of the legs two-thirds of the way down.

Now, of course, those familiar golden arches can be found almost everywhere. Almost. Trivia fact: Apparently, the city fathers of Sedona, Arizona, did not want the garish yellow sign ruining the area's scenery, so McDonald's agreed to use a teal green double-arch on its building -- and no tall sign on a pole.

You can see early examples of early restaurants at "golden arches" on Wikipedia and the world's only non-yellow arches at www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/6241.

Today's trivia

What future famous Army general participated in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden?

Answer to Sunday's trivia: The first photograph showing a human being is widely thought to be an 1838 picture of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris by Louis Daguerre, inventor of the daguerreotype. Because the exposure time was more than 10 minutes, almost all of the pedestrians, carriages and other moving objects cannot be seen. However, in the lower left-hand corner is a man who had stopped to have his shoes polished, so both he and the street shiner wound up in this historic picture. For a close look, go to www.petapixel.com and search for "first photograph human."

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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