July 24, 2024

A peculiar 50’s style neon sign held by a single golden arch stood out among the surrounding buildings, capturing the attention of anyone who happened to be passing by. Behind the iron fence stood a small building with two giant golden arches on either side, along with old models of cars parked out in front that simulated a completely different period in time. The whole structure appeared out of place, as though frozen in time, but there was no question what the building was: the museum of the first McDonald’s. Featuring the original restaurant’s neon road sign and equipment, the Mc-Donald’s museum was an exact replica of the original McDonald’s, built from the same blueprints a year after the demolition of McDonald’s Store No. 1. In-side the building, the all-male mannequin workers stood eerily frozen in time, wearing the 1955 McDonald’s uniform of dark bottoms, white shirts, aprons, and a paper hat. A price board showcasing the limited menu and low prices hung in view of the ordering windows. With the vintage 50’s models Ford and Chevy pulled into the drive-in lot, the cars provided the finishing touches that allowed the people of the present to take a glimpse of the past while simultaneously providing nostalgia to those who had visited the restaurant decades ago. Being a drive-in restaurant, the first Mc-Donald’s had no indoor seating. Past McDonald’s patrons need-ed to walk up to the window, order their food, and take their food back to their cars to eat. “You had to have your own car, or you had to have mom and dad’s car, one or the other, because there was no sitting inside. They did have some outside tables, but nothing inside,” Maine West alumnus from the class of 1965 John Carle said, recalling his experience with the first McDonald’s restaurant. Not only does today’s McDonald’s look different, the food has changed, too. “They originally started making fresh potato french fries. They brought in real potatoes, put in a press, pulled it through the cutter, and soaked them in water. When they got cooked, they still had the skins on them,” Carle recalled. “When [McDonald’s] went to the frozen, they were never as good.” The museum, which was located at 400 N. Lee St. across from the current Rand Road McDonald’s, served as a way for the legacy of the first McDonald’s to live on. “I loved always driving by it and knowing that Des Plaines is important because we had the First McDonald’s. My favorite thing was seeing the cars uncovered when the weather got warmer because they were so cool!” one Maine West student replied in a Westerner survey. It had historical significance as it represented the beginning of one of the largest multinational corporations known to date, but it also served as a way to persevere the memories of Des Plaines residents, both new and old. Whether it be peeking through the iron fence to catch a glimpse of the structure, or fond memories of eating at the original restaurant, the museum connected the past and present even in different eras of time. But unfortunately, just like the fate of the original restaurant, the museum met its demise as well. Notoriously known for overflowing after large rain storms, the rising water from the Des Plaines river wreaked havoc on the community, including the beloved McDonald’s museum that fell victim to the rampant floods. As a result of the water damage, the interior of the museum closed to the public in 2008. A decade after its initial closing, the museum met its downfall in 2018 after the McDonald’s company decided to demolish the historic building due to the continuous flooding. “I think it’s sad we destroyed a historical sight and replaced it with some-thing so basic and common,” another student replied in the Westerner survey. The damage to the building and the unlikelihood to open to the public were the main factors that were considered, and the company ended up donating the land to the City of Des Plaines. Now what remains is a vacant lot where a piece of not only McDonald’s history, but Des Plaines history once stood, empty and with no signs of development. “I loved McDonald’s as a kid and was always so fascinated by the first McDonald’s museum. It really saddened me when they tore it down,” a surveyed student reflected.

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