Surprising Things You Didn't Know About McDonald's

Old McDonald's restaurant in Downey, Los Angeles, California, USA


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McDonald's Sign

Fun Facts About the Golden Arches

There’s no fast-food joint quite as dominant as McDonald’s, which has become not just a staple of cheap eats, but a pop-culture touchstone over the past several decades. But how much do you really know about the Golden Arches, other than the number of your favorite value meal? Here are some fun facts to chew on — with or without that tasty side of fries — including an interesting way for Chinese customers to stay fit while they enjoy their meals. 

Related: Which Iconic Food Was Launched the Year You Were Born?

McDonald's China bikes
McDonald's China

You Can Exercise While Pounding a Big Mac

A unique seating option in select Chinese McDonald's locations has gone viral thanks to a TikTok video. It shows a customer blissfully chowing down on a burger while pedaling away at a stationary bike under her table. Turns out the bikes, made from recycled plastic, aren't just a way for customers to feel a little less guilty about their Big Macs — they're part of a broader low-carbon initiative that lets users generate power to charge their cell phones or other devices.

Related: Spectacular Fast Food Restaurant Designs Around the World

McDonald's Speedee

Before Ronald, There Was Speedee

It’s hard to associate McDonald’s with any mascot other than Ronald McDonald, the ever-smiling clown, but the McDonalds brothers advertised with something completely different: Speedee, who was an anthropomorphic hamburger with a chef’s hat and a permanent wink. But as Ray Kroc took over, Speedee was abandoned in favor of the Golden Arches. Possibly hastening his demise: He was too similar to another mascot, Alka Seltzer’s Speedy.

Related: 20 Times Companies Messed With Their Iconic Logos

Valley of Fire, Nevada

The ‘McFarthest Spot’ Is in Nevada

Ever wondered just how far away you can get from one of McDonald’s seemingly ubiquitous restaurants? In the lower 48 United States, the answer is simple: not very. According to Atlas Obscura, you’ll need to head to a remote spot in central Nevada to be about 120 miles, or 135 miles of driving, from your next Big Mac or Egg McMuffin. 

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McDonald's Restaurant
joebelanger / istockphoto

It Was Originally a Barbecue Joint

It’s hard to conceive of McDonald’s serving up anything but its signature burgers, but when Maurice and Richard McDonald went into business in San Bernardino, California, in 1940, they did it with a barbecue stand. Eight years later, they made a switch to burgers and fries, and replaced carhops with counter service.  

Related: Fast Food Restaurants Then and Now

Portrait of American businessman Ray Kroc while he owned the baseball team San Diego Padres
Portrait of American businessman Ray Kroc while he owned the baseball team San Diego Padres by Unknown author (CC BY)

Ray Kroc Originally Sold Milkshake Machines

Ray Kroc, the businessman who would turn McDonald’s into the behemoth it is today, caught wind of the burger stand because it was using the milkshake machines he sold as a traveling salesman. Impressed with the restaurant, he eventually struck a deal to franchise it in the mid-1950s — and bought the company outright in 1961.

Related: Seniors Who Found Their Passion Later in Life

McDonals's Mascots
McDonals's Mascots by Mike Mozart (CC BY)

Grimace Is a What Now?

Those of us of a certain age remember the characters of McDonaldland — Ronald, the Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese, and so on — with a certain fondness. Of course, there was also Grimace, a bumbling purple blob with comically short arms and legs. Recently, a McDonald’s manager made waves when he said in an interview that dear Grimace “is an enormous taste bud.” McDonald’s itself has even acknowledged in the past that “Grimace lore says he is the embodiment of a milkshake or a taste bud,” though it also seemed to leave the question open to interpretation. 


It Used to Own Chipotle

McDonald’s invested in a small, little-known Mexican chain called Chipotle in 1998. By 2005, McDonald’s owned 90% of the fast-casual brand. A year later, executives decided Chipotle was too much of a distraction, and they didn’t like Chipotle’s refusal to add drive-thrus, so they sold the business — oof. Today, of course, Chipotle is a massive success story, with more than 2,800 restaurants across the nation. 

Related: Competing Brands That Are Actually Owned by the Same Company

View of the Mc Donald's store in Piazza di Spagna during to the phase 2 of lockdown

There’s a McDonald’s Built Over an Ancient Roman Road

Want a side of fries with your history lesson? At a McDonald’s near the Italian capital, customers can look down on the excavation of a road built somewhere between the second and first centuries B.C. through a glass floor, or visit the ruins through a separate entrance. And that’s far from the only unique McDonald’s — for instance, there’s a UFO-shaped restaurant in Roswell, New Mexico.

Related: 10 International Fast-Food Chains America Is Missing Out On

mcdonald's ice cream machine
mcdonald's ice cream machine by Alpha (CC BY-NC)

Yes, the Ice Cream Machines Break a Lot — a Whole Lot

It’s more than a pop-culture joke: McDonald’s really does have issues with its ice cream machines, as anyone who’s ever been frustrated in their quest for a McFlurry can attest. There’s even a website, McBroken, devoted to reporting the status of the chain’s ice cream machines in real time (as of this writing, some 12% weren’t working chainwide). The problem even recently caught the attention of the FTC, which reportedly launched a preliminary investigation into the hard-to-fix machines. 

Queen Elizabeth's Mcdonalds

King Charles Owns a McDonald’s

In Oxfordshire, about 80 miles from Buckingham Palace, there’s a McDonald’s in Banbury Gateway Shopping Park, which is owned by The Crown Estate. “The Crown Estate is though owned by the Monarch in right of the Crown,” reads The Crown Estate’s website. “This means that the King owns it by virtue of holding the position of reigning Monarch, for as long as he is on the throne, as will his successor.” That just leaves us with one pressing question: Does His Majesty prefer Big Macs, or Quarter Pounders? 

Related: The Oldest World Leaders Currently in Power

McDonald's fast food restaurant in Fuzhou, China
xiaoke chen/istockphoto

A Few Countries Have Sworn Off Mickey D’s

McDonald’s truly is a global phenomenon — such that you’ll find its 38,000 restaurants in 118 countries and territories, according to McDonald’s itself. There are a few places where you won’t find Ronald and crew, however, not just because the chain is absent, but actively despised. Those countries: North Korea, for obvious reasons; Bermuda, which prohibits foreign fast-food chains; and the Vatican, which was miffed when a Mickey D’s opened right across its borders, just outside St. Peter’s Square. McDonald's also pulled its 847 Russian storefronts, a protest against the war on Ukraine.

Related: These Big Companies Are Cutting Business Ties With Russia

Big Mac
Bernard Annebicque / Contributor / Sygma / Getty Images CC
Jeff Bezos
David Ryder/Getty Images

Jeff Bezos Was a Burger Flipper at Mickey D’s

Scores of Americans have worked at McDonald’s at some point in their lives, so it stands to reason that a few famous folks are among the alums. One of the most prominent: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man and a newly minted space explorer. He worked the grill back in 1980, when he was a pimple-faced 16-year-old. Other famous faces you may have spotted behind the counter: Mark Hamill, Jay Leno, Sharon Stone, P!nk, and Pharell Williams.  

Chicken nugget

A Single Chicken Nugget Sold for Nearly $100,000 at Auction

How much would you pay for a single chicken nugget? This June, an eBay user opened up bidding on a nugget ostensibly shaped like a character from the popular multiplayer game “Among Us.” The initial price? A modest 99 cents. However, an opening bid of nearly $15,000 created buzz and started a nugget-buying frenzy that drove the final price up to $99,997

Related: Foods That Sold for Big Money at Auction

The Grand Big Mac mcdonald's
Ann S./Yelp

You Can Compare Currencies With the Big Mac Index

Who knew? The Economist uses a tool called the Big Mac Index to determine whether world currencies are over- or undervalued. For instance, at the time of writing, the index showed that a Big Mac was £3.69 in Britain and $5.15 in the U.S., meaning an implied exchange rate of 0.72. But the actual exchange rate was 0.83 — so the British pound is almost 14% undervalued, according to the index. 

McDonalds Pizza

Florida’s ‘Epic McD’ Is the Among the World’s Largest

On your next trip to family-friendly Orlando, don’t forget an overlooked attraction that’s no less magical than the Mouse himself: one of the world’s largest McDonald’s. Dubbed “Epic McD,” it includes a tourist information center, a massive PlayPlace and arcade, animatronics, and more. But the biggest draw is a “gourmet” menu that includes paninis, pasta, fresh pizzas, waffles, cakes, and an entire dessert bar. Frankfurt, Germany, may lay claim to an even bigger branch of Mickey D’s, but it's surely not as fun. 

Hamburger University
Hamburger University by Dirk Tussing (CC BY-SA)

It Has a Hamburger University

How’s a degree in hamburgerology sound? It’s a thing at McDonald’s Hamburger University, a corporate training center that has outposts near Chicago, where McDonald’s headquarters are, as well as all over the world. The goal: To turn out top-notch managers, who are faced with classwork on operations, growth, service, and more. 

McDonalds Fillet of Fish Meal

The Filet-O-Fish Had Competition — from a Pineapple

In the early ’60s, McDonald’s had a problem: Sales in Catholic-heavy areas were tanking on Fridays during Lent. Ray Kroc agreed to test two non-meat items: the Filet-O-Fish and the Hula Burger, a ring of grilled pineapple and a slice of cheese on a bun. In a one-day test of both items, the Filet-O-Fish outsold the Hula Burger 350 to 6, and the rest is history. 

Related: The Biggest Fast Food Flops of All Time

How will you be paying?

There Is a McGold Card for VIPs

Imagine sauntering up to the counter at McDonald’s and slapping down a golden card that grants you a free meal. Then imagine doing it over and over again. McDonald’s does, indeed, have a McGold Card, a prize that has attained legendary status and can be bestowed by franchisees and other brass. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett — who are clearly hurting for that $5 it would cost to grab a Big Mac — are among the notable folks who can nosh on free Mickey D’s whenever they like, reports Business Insider. 

McDonalds McCafé monopoly promo on paper bag and coffee cup

The Monopoly Promotion Touched Off a Massive Scam

Launched in the late '80s, McDonald’s Monopoly was a wildly popular game that gave customers a chance to win everything from free food to huge prizes, like $1 million, when they collected game pieces attached to cups, fries, and other items. Unfortunately, as detailed in the documentary “McMillions,” one man scammed $24 million from the game by getting his hands on winning pieces and selling them to family, friends, and others, which he did throughout the 1990s before the FBI finally busted him in 2001.  

Chicken Nuggets

McNuggets Come In Four Distinct Shapes

Who knew? If, like us, you’ve never considered the shape of your McNuggets before scarfing them down, you may not know that there are four shapes these tasty morsels can take: ball, bell, boot, and bowtie. (Granted, once they’re covered in their crispy batter, the differences often become harder to spot — and funky shapes can still arise, as with the “Among Us” nugget.) One reason for the shapes? The variety boosts their kid appeal, McDonald’s has said. 

McDonald's Menu Then

The Fries Got a ‘Healthy’ Makeover

In 1990, McDonald’s ditched a key ingredient in its French fries — beef tallow — and replaced it with vegetable oil in an effort to cut down on saturated fat. The fries have had many tweaks since then in an effort to bring back some of the original “meatier” flavor, but many who remember the fries of yore say they still simply don’t compare.  

Quarter pounder with cheese box

It Was Sued Over a Slice of Cheese

Chances are you remember the infamous hot-coffee lawsuit, when a woman was awarded nearly $3 million after sustaining burns from a coffee spill after going through a McDonald’s drive-thru. You may not remember, however, that two McDonald’s customers sued for $5 million because they were charged the full price of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese despite specifying that they didn’t actually want cheese. Fortunately, a judge decided they didn’t prove they were sufficiently harmed by the upcharge of a few dimes to prevail.   

Related: Most Unbelievable Lawsuits Filed Against Big Companies