World's First McDonald's Drive Thru - Gastro Obscura

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Gastro Obscura

World's First McDonald's Drive Thru

Sierra Vista, Arizona

Out of a desire to feed hungry soldiers, a franchise-altering idea was born. 

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McDonald’s is famous for having served billions and billions of burgers throughout the course of the franchise’s history, but until January 24, 1975, no McDonald’s burger had ever been served in quite this way before. It was on that day that the first drive-through opened in Sierra Vista, Arizona, forever changing one’s ability to eat Quarter Pounders in their car.

To be clear, drive-through restaurants were not a new innovation–many restaurants have a claim to the first drive-through burger, including the popular west coast chain In-N-Out Burger. McDonald’s, however, emphasized counter service and the local diner feel. But by 1974, a franchise in Oklahoma City was intending to open a drive-through window, and Dave Rich, the operator of the Sierra Vista McDonald’s, was intrigued by the possibility.

Sierra Vista was and is a military town, with many residents working and living at nearby Fort Huachuca. Military officers who were on duty could not be seen wearing their uniforms in public due to the fort’s rules on military decorum, making a sit-down lunch impossible. However, they could grab lunch and go with no one being the wiser. So Dave Rich cut a hole in the wall of his McDonald’s franchise, put up glass and an intercom, and burger history was made.

Although the original building is no longer standing, travelers can still visit a McDonald’s franchise at this location. In front, a sign reads “World’s First McDonald’s Drive Thru,” and inside, there’s a small display of memorabilia, including the original Ronald McDonald figure used as the intercom. The glass from the drive-through window has ended up at the Henry F. Hauser Museum, a museum of local Sierra Vista history.

Sierra Vista’s unique desert conditions and military background may have led the town to become a part of McDonald’s history, but perhaps it was also destiny. Once upon a time, the town of Sierra Vista was known by another name: Fry.

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