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First McDonald’s Drive-Thru Was Thanks to One Strict Military Rule and an Ingenious Loophole Soldiers Found

The McDonald’s drive-thru, a staple in American culture, first came into being in Arizona to meet the needs of soldiers. A walk down memory lane by the Arizona Republic noted that the first McDonald’s drive-thru to open did so in Sierra Vista on Jan. 24, 1975, to meet the needs of service members at nearby Fort Huachuca. The story begins in 1974 when a McDonald’s regional manager in Dallas saw that other outlets with drive-thrus in Oklahoma City were doing a booming business. Permission was granted from up the corporate ladder to design and open the first drive-thru, a four-column portico peppered with McDonald’s characters and a Ronald McDonald statue customers would speak into when giving their orders. Out in Sierra Vista, David Rich, operator of the McDonald’s there, decided to adapt the concept. Service members at Fort Huachuca at the time could not appear in public in their work or duty uniforms, Steve Gregory, a technician at the Fort Huachuca Museum, said. That meant walking into the counter to order was off-limits. The base was two miles from the restaurant, and Rich wanted to find a way service members driving past could drive up, order from their vehicles and be gone with the rule intact. There was nothing grandiose — just an opening in a wall big enough for one worker. A small sliding window was installed, and on Jan. 24, 1975, McHistory was made. Leann Richards, who bought the franchise in 1989, said the line for the drive-thru on opening day was headed by the post commander and his daughter. “It was a big thing in a small town,” Richards said. “Soldiers are still a very important part of our business.” Gregory said the innovation was a hit from day one. “In this little town in 1974, just getting a different restaurant to eat at (or as a teenager, to have another place to hang out) was a big thing,” Gregory wrote in an email. “As a high school student, we were bugged when the drive-thru first opened by the lines of the soldiers, which slowed us down on our lunch times as well,” he wrote. In March, a drive-thru in Tucker, Georgia, opened, followed in April by the Oklahoma City drive-thru. There was one caution needed — doors by the drive-thru were locked, so no one walked in front of a vehicle. “People were very unfamiliar with the concept,” Richards said. “They didn’t know to look for cars.” The original window now exists in a local museum after the building underwent renovations in 1999. “It was not an easy decision,” Richards said. “But the old restaurant needed to be replaced.” But the new restaurant proudly touts its history. In 2014, a plaque was installed to note that the drive-thru has its roots in Sierra Vista. This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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