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Are the Golden Arches really supposed to be giant french fries?

Speedee in all his pre-Ronald McDonald glory at the McDonald's USA First Store Museum in 2005 in Des Plaines, Ill.
Speedee in all his pre-Ronald McDonald glory at the McDonald's USA First Store Museum in 2005 in Des Plaines, Ill.
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

If you hopped in a time machine, set the dial for 1948 and found yourself at the counter of McDonald's first self-service restaurant, you'd have all of nine menu items to choose from. Not on the list? French fries, which weren't added to the menu until the following year. Instead of Ronald McDonald, you'd find "Speedee" Chef, the winking, hamburger-headed mascot for the restaurant until 1962. And the Golden Arches, the stylized yellow "M" known worldwide as the McDonald's logo, would be missing altogether.

How did McDonald's come up with the cultural icon known as the Golden Arches? With a little imagination, you could easily see the logo as a couple of flexible french fries placed next to one another. After all, the McDonald's mascot at the time did have a hamburger for a head, so the restaurant clearly wasn't averse to incorporating food into its designs. In reality, however, the inspiration for the Golden Arches stemmed from architecture rather than food.

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After the initial success of the first McDonald's restaurant, founders Dick and Mac McDonald looked to franchise their operation. Working with architect Stanley Meston, the brothers designed a red-and-white-themed, walk-up restaurant with a distinctive slanted roof. Dick found the design a little plain and proposed adding two giant yellow arches, running from the front to the restaurant to the back, to both sides of the building. For good measure, they placed another arch sporting their "Speedee" logo to serve as a sign for the restaurants. For years, the arches remained only an architectural feature of the restaurants.

In 1962, however, McDonald's looked to modernize its logo (and, according to some, avoid unflattering comparisons of its "Speedee" chef character with Alka-Seltzer's "Speedy" mascot). When viewed from a certain angle, the arches framing McDonald's restaurants formed an "M," so the company incorporated the arches into its new logo. In fact, early versions of the Golden Arches have a diagonal line, representing the roofline of the restaurants, cutting across the middle of the "M." The new logo proved a huge success, and the company stuck with the design even as McDonald's began removing the architectural golden arches from its restaurants throughout the sixties.

In fact, the McDonald brothers could have never dreamed of some of the places their humble logo would turn up years later. Read on to see what we mean.

 

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Admit it. That lonely golden arch set up for U2's 1997 stop in Las Vegas during its PopMart tour looks weird without the second arch McDonald's has gotten us used to.
Admit it. That lonely golden arch set up for U2's 1997 stop in Las Vegas during its PopMart tour looks weird without the second arch McDonald's has gotten us used to.
AP Photo/Lennox McLendon

While the Golden Arches may not have much to do with french fries, you'll certainly find them in France (and pretty much everywhere else). With more than 31,000 locations spanning the globe, the Golden Arches have become, like the Nike swoosh and the iconic Coca-Cola script, an instantly recognizable symbol of American culture throughout the world.

Although the logo remains largely unchanged wherever you go, you can find slight variants from place to place. For instance, the arches outside the McDonald's in Salzburg, Austria, are surrounded by ornate wrought iron metalwork. New York's Times Square hosts Golden Arches emblazoned with bright lights and neon, and the Golden Arches in Canada have small maple leaves placed on their centers. For the most part, however, the Golden Arches in Brazil are the same as the ones in China.

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And because the Golden Arches are so easily recognizable, they've even found their way into popular culture. For instance, the band U2 incorporated an enormous 100-foot (30-meter) tall yellow arch into the stage design for its PopMart tour, though, of course, band members insist its resemblance to McDonald's Golden Arches was purely coincidental. Sure it was, Bono. The popular cartoon "Family Guy" references the logo as well, depicting Ronald McDonald as a scary clown tormenting one of the show's characters with the Golden Arches. New York Times editorialist Thomas Friedman even named a political theory, The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention, after the logo. Not bad for a big, golden "M."

Keep reading for links to more french-fried trivia.

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Sources

  • Andersen, Kurt. "Legacy of the Golden Arches." Time. June 2, 1986. (4/24/2009)http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,961515-1,00.html
  • Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. "McDonald's Store #433 Sign, Pine Bluff, Jefferson County." (4/24/2009)http://www.arkansaspreservation.org/historic-properties/_search_nomination_popup.asp?id=687
  • Holmes, Anna. "Arch Deluxe." Entertainment Weekly. (4/24/2009)http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,287281,00.html
  • The Independent. "Logos that became legends: Icons from the world of advertising." Jan. 4, 2008. (4/24/2009)http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/logos-that-became-legends-icons-from-the-world-of-advertising-768077.html
  • Kansas State Historical Society. "Cool Things, McDonald's Sign." (4/24/2009)http://www.kshs.org/cool3/neonsign.htm
  • Logoblog.org. "McDonald's Logo." (4/24/2009)http://www.logoblog.org/mcdonalds-logo.php
  • Mallaby, Sebastian. "Reign of Golden Arches." New York Sun. Jan. 31, 2007. (4/24/2009)http://www.nysun.com/opinion/reign-of-golden-arches/47747/
  • TravelPod. "Swanky McDonald's." Nov. 6, 2007. (4/24/2009)http://www.travelpod.com/travel-photo/friskyc/europe-fall_07/1193756700/europe_october_2007_176.jpg/tpod.html
  • WordPress. "Weird McDonald's Commercials." (4/24/2009)http://buffetoblog.wordpress.com/2008/12/05/weird-mcdonalds-commercials/

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