More Like A Drive-By Than a Drive-Thru

My first real job outside of babysitting was working for McDonald’s. I adored that job. I’ve written about it before, briefly, and instead of having you read that entire post (because I listed all the jobs I’ve ever had, with a paragraph on each!) I’ll just excerpt it here:

“I, along with a bunch of my friends, “opened” the brand-new McD’s right outside the grounds of our high school. I was the one in the drive thru, yelling at everyone to hurry up because we had to get these cars through in 30 seconds. We had a great time working together. We did things like cook up a whole basket of fries right before closing (“Oops, we didn’t sell these…guess we’ll eat them while we clean up!”), and watch my VHS tapes of ‘North and South’ during breaks. During our “McBucks” motivational contest, I worked my tail off and earned a bicycle to take with me to college.”

I worked there for almost two years, and during the summer before I left for college I was working lots of hours, and many double shifts. I never, ever, ever got tired of any aspect of working there, other than just being tired FROM working.

Since then, I have always had a soft spot for anything McDonald’s-related. No, I’m not a collector of kitsch or anything like that, but I love McDonald’s commercials, I keep an eye on what’s new there, and I’ve even watched tv shows ABOUT McDonald’s. Heck, I LIVE in the land of McDonald’s: their corporate headquarters (and Hamburger University) is fifteen minutes from my house, and no, I didn’t move here for that reason.

A couple of years ago, I found out that there was a museum at the site of the very first McDonald’s restaurant, and decided that we had to go see it. Actually, it’s across the street. What happened was, they tore the original store down in 1984, put a new one up in its place, and built a replica of the original store directly across the street using the original blueprints. This was made into the McDonald’s #1 Store Museum. According to the website, you can look inside through the windows to see how the store was originally set up, and you could actually go down into the basement to see historical displays and memorabilia. I had to see it.

It’s about a 40-minute drive from our house. I looked up the directions online one day, and the boys and I headed up there.



They had funky hours, only being open Thursday-Saturday, and this was a Monday.

We couldn’t even get close to it, because the grounds are gated. After all of that driving, ugh. We ended up grabbing a bite to eat at the McDonald’s on the original site and then continued on with our day.

Last year, we went up there again, all Fab Five (Jim, the boys, me, and Julesie) of us.



It didn’t occur to me to check on whether they were open YEAR-ROUND. They are only open Thursday-Saturday between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

We ended up grabbing a bit to eat at the McDonald’s on the original site and then continued on with our day.

Yesterday, Jim, the boys and I decided to try it again. Visiting on a Saturday during “open” hours? Check. Visiting between Memorial Day and Labor Day? Check.

We parked at the operating McDonald’s and as we crossed the street I got very excited: the gates were OPEN! Woo hooooo!

We checked out the original sign from up close,

read the commemorative plaque that declared that Ray Kroc’s first official franchise was on this spot,

admired the vintage autos that were parked out front for the ambiance,

and then had a total Walley World moment.


I think I was the one who started laughing first. Actually, now that I think about it, I think I was the ONLY one who was laughing. Basically what this meant was, sure, we could look into the windows to see the store as it originally was, which was one step closer than we’ve ever been before, but there would be no trip to the basement for the historical displays.

We walked around the perimeter of the building to double-check that we weren’t being punked, and ended up back in front. No punking here. Jim and the boys looked in the windows for a couple of minutes and then went back over to stand near the vintage cars.

I was still at the windows, taking photos. And laughing.

The older boy said, “Yeah, I mean, what can we learn from just looking in the windows? Geez!”

I said, “Are you kidding me? There are TONS of things you can learn about McDonald’s from just looking in the windows! Come here!”

And he didn’t.


He sauntered over, the younger one slowly following…and I taught them.

“You can learn that their original menu was extremely simple compared to today. You can learn that root beer was probably a more popular drink than coke back then, because it was higher on the menu. You can learn that they have always offered the three basic milkshake flavors…”

“You can learn that Speedee was the name of the original mascot. You can learn that all of their drinks came in one size cup. You can see how the paper that was used to wrap the burgers was stored, ready for use. You can learn that cheeseburgers have always been in yellow wrappers and hamburgers in white…”

“You can learn what the original milkshake machine looked like (selling the milkshake machine is actually how Ray Kroc got involved in the business, actually). You can learn that they had to pump the flavors into the milkshakes instead of the way they do it today…”

“You can learn that they’ve been making french fries in the same type of fry baskets since the beginning…”

“You can learn that french fries only came in ‘small’, and that ‘medium’, ‘large’, and the now-defunct ‘super-size’ were totally unheard of back then…”

“You can learn what original uniforms looked like…”

“You can learn that originally, the restaurant was a walk-up, and not a dine-in/drive-thru…”

“You can learn that they have always had huge grills, for making lots of burgers at once. You can learn that they grilled the buns right there next to the burgers…”

“You can learn that they had a lazy-susan contraption for use when ‘dressing’ the burgers…

…See how much you can learn, kids?”

After they gave me the blank stare and the “yep, she’s definitely crazy!” headshake…

we ended up grabbing a bit to eat at the McDonald’s on the original site and then continued on with our day.

Actually, the open McDonald’s there was full of what had probably been in the basement at the museum; there were framed pictures all over the place, portraying billboard ads, photos of Ray Kroc and Ronald McDonald from back in the day, the original milkshake machine, and lots more.

This hung near the register:

So although we have no need to go back and it wasn’t what we thought it would be, I’m still sort of fond of the McDonald’s #1 Store Museum. Jim and the kids? Don’t ask.



  • ciara

    i worked at mcdonalds for a few months (prob around 3 lol) when i was in college. it was actually o.k., i didn't love it (pun intended lol), but if not for mcdonald's i would not have had my son because….that's where i met his dad who started working there prob about a month before i quit. i left it for a job in retail: sears. did i mention how much i HATE retail?? lol

    anywhoo, i would rather have worn that old time uniform then that ugly blue & white polyester thing w the funny hats. btw ray kroc owned one of my fave baseball teams, the padres. that's when the team wasn't as sucky. lol 🙂

  • Tara R.

    I worked at Micky D's when I was in high school. To this day I can't eat there. Not a pleasant experience. Now, Arby's my second job… that was fun, and still a favorite fast food stop.

    The museum adventure was hilarious.

  • NukeDad

    Sounds like a cool trip! I love nostalgia and learning about stuff like that; in fact, all of this reading has made me hungry. I think I'll got pick myself up a Whopper.

  • WeaselMomma

    In summary, you went to visit this museum twice. You were bamboozled twice and YOU STILL PATRONIZED THEM AND GAVE THEM YOUR HARD OWNED MONEY TWICE! No wonder your boys gave the 'she is crazy' head shake.

  • Melisa with one S

    Ciara: Lookin' for love in all the wrong places? haha Glad it worked out! And I still have my hat; ask Nukedad: I posted a photo of it once, especially for him, on Cre8Buzz. (And those blue and white polyester uniforms really held the greasy smell, didn't they? Icky.)

    Tara: That's what has always surprised me. (unfortunately,) I have never ever gotten sick of the food. If it were calorie-free, I could eat it for every meal. Weird!

    Nukedad: A Whopper? haha That's always my second choice if there's no McD's available…

    WM: No money necessary: all the abuse was free!

  • Teacher Tom

    Things really are changing for McDonald's — you might look back on this trip as a last hurrah. They seem to be closing like crazy up here in the NW. My daughter and her friends literally boo when we drive past one, and cheer when they see one is closed. The anti-fast food folks have gotten to them.

    My soft spot came from my time living in Wolfsburg, Germany. Whenever I got a little homesick, I'd swing by the drive through for "Beg Mic" and "pommes," but I haven't eaten there in years.

  • Lindz

    What a bummer that you didn't get to go down into the basement but way to make a "teachable moment" out of the experience.

  • Sue

    "Sorry folks the moose up front should have told you that the parks closed"
    Damn I love that movie.

    You should have been a teacher. You would be great on a fieldtrip!

  • NYC Girl

    I love McDonald's! This is such a great post! Of course you can learn a lot from the grounds. It's so awesome I have to send your blog link to my sister who also loves Mickey D's! Thanks for sharing!

  • Heather

    I am seriously CRACKING up. I cannot believe you didn't get to go into it?! WTH?! And yet, you still had so much to share. Only you, girl, only you.


  • Melisa with one S

    Teacher Tom: They're not closing here at all; in fact, they are knocking down old ones and rebuilding from the ground up! I too loved eating McD's in Germany; something about having that familiar stuff in the middle of all the schnitzel and stuff…

    Lindz: I try! And otherwise, we would have been there for all of ten minutes anyway. Seemed like it made the drive more worthwhile, to me anyway!

    Sue: You know I've got a teaching degree, right? The problem is I just don't like children. Bwahahahahaha! Just kidding. Sort of.

    NYCGirl/Patty: Send it on! 🙂 BTW, I owe you an e-mail. It's coming soon.

    Heather: I couldn't believe it either! But when life hands you lemons…

  • Mr. Man

    As I sit here with a bag of "Flamin' Hot Cheetos", you have put the taste in my mouth for some salty Mickey D's french fries. Man…I am having a bad diet weekend. 🙂

  • Tom

    This is a first-class, a-number-one keeper post. Love it!

    It ticks me off that the 1980's were so dim-witted that they went about bulldozing anything that had historical value, like the original McD's. They should have left it.

    In any event… glad you got a chance to see it and whip up some great teachable moments from the outside of the glass.

    This is one more reason that I have to take the family to Chicago soon.

  • surprised mom

    I never worked at Mickey D's, however I love all things historical and would love to visit this museum, even if I can't go in the basement. I don't live live too far from McDonald's headquarters and Hamburger University. I was there when I was a journalist. The grounds are gorgeous.
    I'm addicted to McDonald's cheeseburgers.
    My first job was also in the fast food industry. I worked at Yankee Doodle Dandy. No kidding.

  • BeautifulWreck

    I enjoyed this post. Very informative. I am getting a huge kick out of your love for MackeyDeez

  • Kat

    Awesome post- I head no idea. Though that would be a lie – I read Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation", from which I learned a lot about how McD's started out. Thanks for the photos and story though…

  • Mom24

    My older sister worked at McD's when I was growing up–it always seemed so cool. Plus, I loved the occasional bag of fries and burgers she brought home. 🙂

  • quba

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  • Andie

    you know, I sort of wish they would open a few of the old school restaurants where the portion sizes were smaller, etc. like a couple of vintage ones- where the food is fresher and less fattening. LOL

  • BWChicago

    I'm from Des Plaines and write a blog about Des Plaines history. The replica McDonald's IS on its original site. The sign is original, but moved from its original location to the left edge of the property; the restaurant originally had less landscaping and certainly didn't have gates. It was reconstructed because it had been remodeled so many times over the years, it had no design integrity left – had a whole mansard roof and brick applied, and an outdoor eating area. It was reconstructed quickly in 1985 and a museum is in the basement. I think it may have been damaged by flooding, and that is why it isn't open anymore. That, or they just aren't budgeting for it, or they don't have anyone to run it. Most of the museum is redundant with the exhibits across the street anyway.