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Origins of Fast Food in the USA

By: Sarah Clark (ILEX) - Updated: 29 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Fast Food Usa Burgers Hot Dogs Diet

The USA is usually thought of as the fast food capital of the world, and blamed for all sorts of junk food related ills and assaults on the global diet. How did the land most associated with burgers and hot dogs come to be such a massive fast food haven?

The Hot Dog – The USA’s Original Fast Food?

In 1867, a German butcher called Charles Feltman opened the first hot dog stand in Brooklyn, New York. The delicacy caught on with the native New Yorkers and a USA favourite food was born. The spread of the hot dog is said to be attributed to The World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. Also, in Chicago the St. Louis World's Fair, 1904, where a number of new fast foods were promoted as desirable to the general public, including hot dogs and ice cream cones.

Burgers And Fries

The origins of fast food restaurants in the USA can probably be traced to a specific date - 7 July 1912 – when a fast food restaurant was opened in New York City by Horn & Hardart. The establishment offered its happy customers a selection of pre - prepared fast foods which were displayed behind small glass windows and coin-operated slots.

‘Automat’ restaurants like this started to spring up around the USA to cope with the demand for this new fast food phenomenon, and the automats was a popular eaterie of choice during the 1920s -30s. The company used the term ‘take-out’ and made the concept popular using the slogan "Less work for Mother".

Drive-in restaurants were introduced around the time of the first world war, as cars were becoming more popular and affordable. The White Castle hamburger chain was probably the first burger bar, and opened in restaurant in Wichita in 1916 with a limited menu, serving high volumes of fast food for a low cost.

The Biggest Burger Bar In Town

McDonald's, was founded as a barbecue drive-in in 1940 by Dick and Mac McDonald. They realised that they were making most of their money from the burgers they sold, and so they closed the restaurant – then reopened it in 1948 as a walk-in stand offering burgers, fries and drinks in paper wrappings. Their streamlined fast food production method, which they called "Speedee Service System" was apparently inspired by car production lines such Henry Ford!

A milkshake salesman called Ray Kroc went to visit the stand to discover the secret to their operation. His investigations eventually led to Ray buying the McDonalds' operation outright in 1961 with the ambition of expanding the business to make cheap burgers, fries and milkshakes into a nationwide business. Kroc was the person who made McDonald's into a national chain.

Fast Food In The 21st Century

Fast food makes up a large proportion of the staple diet of some Americans. In the USA alone, it was estimated that around US$110 billion was spent just on fast food in 2000 and according to the National Restaurant Association, sales of fast food in the USA were up to $163.5 billion in 2005. It’s said that more people pass through the doors of McDonalds than a church or synagogue!

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