Ray Kroc, one of the founders of the McDonald’s hamburger chain, changed American eating habits as effectively as Henry Ford changed the way Americans travel. He understood the vast market created by highways and suburbs; the new form of transportation required a new kind of food – fast – and by the mid-1950s the hamburger had clearly become the premier fast food in the United States, eclipsing the previous national ‘dish’, the American apple pie. Today, 200 Americans purchase one (or more) hamburgers every second, and each American consumes twenty-seven and a half pounds of ground beef every year.
Ray Kroc first sited his restaurants near churches, wanting to create a hamburger sanctuary: a place where pilgrims could rest and be refreshed, knowing that everything would be orderly and predictable, according to a secular catechism. Uniformity and speed were the important features: the process of making a hamburger was broken into its components, and each task was written out in precise detail. Nothing was to be left to personal initiative or guesswork. There was a 385-page operating manual, McDonald’s bible, and deviation from it was never tolerated.
Kroc began by standardizing beef patties: each one was to weigh 1.6 ounces, measure 3.875 inches in diameter and contain no organs or grains. The bun was to be three and a half inches wide, high in sugar content so that it could brown quickly. There would be a quarter of an ounce of onion.