I’m Lovin’ It: Vintage Photos of McDonald’s That Prove Just How Much the Fast Food Chain Has Changed

Thu Jan 06 2022

In today’s day and age, you rarely have to travel too far to find the glorious golden arches. There’s a McDonald’s on almost every corner – and, at the time of writing, there are over 39,000 restaurants across more than 100 countries around the world. So, you could say that ol’ Ronald McDonald and his crew are kind of a big deal… And they have been since this fast-food joint first opened its doors in 1940.

Since the very first McDonald’s location opened in San Bernardino, California, the fast-food joint has changed dramatically. From the food they used to serve to the Happy Meal toys and even the restaurant decoration, it’s safe to say that McDonald’s has modernized over the years. But if you love nostalgia as much as we do, you’ll love these retro photos of McDonald’s back in the day, and we guarantee that they’ll take you back to your childhood.

The Burger Seats Were All Fun and Games Until You Slipped off Them

Unless you’re a die-hard drive-thru fan, you’ll know that McDonald’s wouldn’t be complete without seating of some kind. After all, you need to be comfortable while you’re eating your Big Mac, right? Today’s seating is pretty boring and normally comes in the form of regular chairs or stools. But things were so much quirkier back in the day.

During the ’80s and ’90s, these burger seats reigned supreme. Kids and adults alike would race to sit on the happy burger faces while they ate their meals, and these stools just made the whole McDonald’s experience even better. But anyone who has ever sat on these bad boys will know that they came with a very big health and safety risk. Yes, for some reason they were always slippery – so slipping off them became a common occurrence.

These Coffee Stirrers Were Banned When It Was Discovered That They Weren’t Used For Stirring Coffee

Many people head to Mickey D’s for their morning cup of joe – and thankfully, this fast-food joint is on hand with various different types of coffee for you to enjoy. But how do you stir it? Well, McDonald’s has wooden stirrers that you can use to stir in any creamer or sugar you may require. During the 1970s, though, this stirrer was plastic and looked a little different.

Although these plastic stirrers with a spoon on one end and the tell-tale arches on the other end became instantly famous, they also became infamous after it was discovered that these stirrers were actually being used as drug paraphernalia. Word got to McDonald’s that they were being used for illicit and illegal purposes, so they decided to make changes to the design in order to distance themselves from this controversy.

Ronald McDonald Always Kept Watch Outside on a Bench… Until He Was Taken Away

Ever since its debut, McDonald’s restaurants have come with a few main features. There’s the sign with the giant ‘M’ emblazoned on the front, there’s the red and gold color theme, and there’s normally some kind of nod to the fast-food chain’s mascot, Ronald McDonald. And before the early 2000s, Ronald McDonald could normally be found just outside of the restaurant, sitting on a bench.

Kids loved to sit on these benches with Ronald, and they became synonymous with the brand. And while it’s not known why McDonald’s made the decision to remove these life-size statues of the McDonald’s king, rumors suggest that it had something to do with the fact that the benches and Ronald himself kept getting stolen.

These Coolers Were Always Filled With That Delicious Orange Drink, and Delivered to Sports Games

Does anyone else remember Mickey D’s orange drink? Well, it was orange in color – but the jury is still out on whether it tasted like orange. The Orange Hi-C that McDonald’s used to sell was a fan favorite from 1955 until the early 2000s when it became less popular. But real fans will know that this stuff tasted the best when it was delivered in a giant cooler.

Whether you were at a school function or a sports event back in the day, you could almost guarantee that McDonald’s would have provided one of these for it. It dominated the sidelines and everyone seemed to love it, and many adults now have fond memories of this cooler emblazoned into their brain. And rightly so.

McDonald’s Always Pulled It Out of the Bag for Their Halloween Chicken Nugget Toys

If there’s one thing we don’t think we’ll ever get over is how McDonald’s gives away awesome Happy Meal toys for free. What a service to society – and what a collection of toys they have made over the years. While it’s safe to say that their toys today are pretty awesome, nothing will ever compare to their Halloween Chicken Nugget toys.

The creative team behind these toys was certainly on the ball when they made these, and they went down a treat with kids who either just wanted one – or wanted to collect the whole series. Plus, these toys also doubled up as water pistols if you wanted them to. All you had to do was fill the little hole in the bottom with some water and squeeze them at your enemies.

When the McDonald’s Had an N64 Console, You Knew the Kids Would Be Entertained for Hours

As a fast-food chain, McDonald’s is all about creating minimal fuss and getting customers in and out within a short space of time. But times have changed since the 1990s and early ’00s. Back in the day, Mickey D’s was a house of fun – especially if they had an N64 games console in the corner of the restaurant.

While this console couldn’t be found in every McDonald’s around the globe, they were in a large majority of them in the US and the UK. Kids would half-finish their chicken nuggets and fries, head to the console, wipe their greasy fingers on the controllers, and enjoy the games to their heart’s content. Those were the days.

Before 1990, the Styrofoam Packaging Was an Environmentalists Worst Nightmare

Today, businesses are trying to be as eco-friendly as possible when it comes to their packaging – but this notion wasn’t quite as prevalent during the ’70s, ’80s, and even into the 1990s and the early 2000s. So, some of you might remember the iconic McDonald’s clamshell packaging, which was made entirely from styrofoam. The main defining feature was that it was great for sauce lovers.

Many customers loved breaking up the styrofoam boxes when they were done with their meal, but as tides began to change and people began to think more about the environment, McDonald’s came under fire for using such materials. By 1990 they agreed to stop using styrofoam for their sandwich packing, but it wasn’t until 2012 that they eliminated styrofoam for their hot drinks as well.

Officer Big Mac Made McDonalds’ Playland Even More Exciting, but He Wouldn’t Be Allowed Today

Let’s be honest; McDonald’s back in the day was a full day out – and it was probably a godsend for your parents. Not only could they buy you a cheap meal, but then they could also have a few moments of peace and quiet as you made your way out into the Playland playparks that almost every McDonald’s restaurant had. And if you remember this playpark, you had a great childhood.

From the helter-skelter slides to the horse-themed see-saws, everything about this playpark made kids squeal with excitement. However, nothing was more exciting than Office Big Mac. This burger jail was the ultimate playpark addition, and kids loved climbing into the tiny, metal prison. This jail would be deemed too small and dangerous for any playpark today, so we hope you enjoyed it while you could.

The Original Ronald McDonald Was Utterly Terrifying

If you asked anyone on the street to describe Ronald McDonald, they would probably all come back with the same answer. He’s a clown with red hair, a white face with bright red lips, and a yellow and red jumpsuit. And it’s easy to assume that he’s always been this way – but that’s not the case. This was the original Ronald McDonald, and he was utterly terrifying.

This original mascot was used back in 1963 and featured a McDonald’s cup as a nose, a tray as a hat, and makeup that looked like the horror show. The overall aesthetic is one that we’re glad has changed, because we can’t imagine this scarecrow-looking mascot would have had the same effect as the fun-loving Ronald McDonald we know and love today.

Let’s Be Honest; Everyone Stole These Amber Glass Ashtrays From McDonald’s

Today, smoking indoors is banned across most of the world. Because of this, you’ll rarely find ashtrays in any kind of eating establishment. But back when smoking was allowed indoors, McDonald’s decided to accommodate this category of their clientele, and they created the iconic amber glass ashtrays. Before too long, everyone had at least one in their houses, too.

While many of your family members may maintain to this day that they bought their amber glass McDonald’s ashtray, the likelihood is that they finished up their chicken nugget meal and popped it in their purse. Don’t worry, though, because we think more people did this than McDonald’s would like to accept.

Only the Coolest of Kids Had Their Birthday Parties at McDonald’s

Nowadays, children’s birthday parties have changed. They have video game contests, they play paintball, they go to the mall, and sometimes they even head to a fancy restaurant for a good meal. During the 1990s and early ’00s, though, McDonald’s birthday parties were all the rage. Looking back now they were deeply unsanitary – but they were still pretty awesome.

These birthday parties featured cardboard crowns, aprons, balloons, and even a cake. And this, coupled with a whole load of kids hopped up on e-numbers and chicken nuggets was a childs’ paradise. Unfortunately, McDonald’s kids’ parties aren’t as popular as they used to be, but that’s not to say that they don’t do them at all. They just don’t do them as often anymore.

The Tell-Tale Floors Were Iconic, but Sadly They’re No Longer Around

In recent years, McDonald’s restaurants have focused on creating modern, neutral spaces for their customers to eat – and that’s a great idea. It boasts inclusivity and comfort for sure, but does anyone else miss those tell-tale floors and the gray and pink color scheme? If so, you’re not alone.

No matter where you were in the country or even the world during the 1990s, you can almost guarantee that they would all look exactly the same – and boast this same exact decoration. It made us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but sadly this outdated look has been replaced by something more modern and in keeping with the 21st century. We get it, but it’s still a shame.

If You Recognize This Uniform, Chances Are That You’re an ‘80s Kid

The McDonald’s uniform has changed a lot over the year, with workers wearing everything from brown uniforms to green uniforms. Today, you’ll most likely find them wearing grey, though – with polo shirts and baseball caps. However, if you recognize the uniform in the picture below, chances are that you’re an ’80s kid.

Throughout the 1980s, McDonald’s workers wore a white and red striped button-up with an obscenely large collar and a different kind of hat that’s not quite a baseball cap. Of course, you can probably tell this is the 1980s just by the Farrah Fawcett hairstyle alone, but this photo basically sums up our childhood.

The Mac Tonight Moon Man Was Strange, but Still Somewhat Effective

Nowadays, everyone knows McDonald’s – even if you don’t eat there yourself. The brand is so synonymous with fast food that it’ll never go out of fashion, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t tried new and unique marketing techniques over the years. In the 1980s, the Mac Tonight moon man came along and brightened things up.

This moon sang the Bobby Darrin song “Mack the Knife” in an effort to increase sales, and while the whole concept of the moon man was pretty bizarre – it did the job. That was until 1989 when Bobby Darin’s son Dodd Mitchell Darin claimed that the song infringed upon his father’s trademark without permission and ultimately sued the company.

These McDonald’s Transformers Toys From the ‘80s Are Worth a Fortune Today

Right from the beginning, McDonald’s’ unique selling point has been the toys that come with every Happy Meal. Most kids can’t believe that they get to eat yummy food and get a new toy at the same time – and it’s this combination that has seen customers return time and time again. But it’s safe to say that the Happy Meal toys aren’t what they used to be.

In 1987, just after the release of The Transformers: The Movie in 1986, the fast-food chain released a set of Happy Meal toys that instantly became iconic. From the outset, they looked like actual toys of McDonald’s items like the Egg McMuffin and the fries – but they were actually Transformers themselves. Many retro lovers miss these toys so much today that they’re willing to spend $50 to add each toy to their collection.

The Walls Always Had Great Murals on Them, Until They Were Covered Up

Whoever does the decorating of McDonald’s restaurants nowadays is certainly not the same person who did it back in the day. Today, the walls are normally neutral with big photographs of cheeseburgers plastered on them. Things were different back in the ’90s and early ’00s, and these walls were instead plastered with murals.

These murals normally featured the one and only Ronald McDonald, along with his other mascot friends. They were always colorful, big, and bright, and they gave the restaurants a whole new dimension that catered to the younger audience. But now they’re trying to be for humans of all ages, it seems as though those murals have been kicked to the curb.

The McDonald’s High Chairs Were So Much More Colorful Than They Are Now

Due to the fact that so many families make their way to McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch, dinner – or just a mid-day snack – they often keep high chairs on hand for those with young children. Today, though, those high chairs are pretty boring and normally just made from wood. They’re nothing compared to the high chairs of the ’60s and ’70s.

Do you remember Ronald, Grimace, and Fry Guy? Back in the day Ronald and his other mascot friends adorned many of the decorations and practicalities within the restaurants, and this high chair is one of those things. It was bright, it was colorful, and it even looked pretty comfortable with a padded back. But we guess it just went out of style.

The Epic (And Sweaty) Indoor Play Areas Are Mostly Nonexistent Today

During the ’90s and ’00s, much of McDonald’s branding and decoration was designed for a younger audience. The colors of the restaurants were bright and colorful, they had Mickey D’s mascots everywhere, and everything was tailored for kids. Today, everything is more neutral – and only a few McDonald’s locations have these indoor play areas left.

There’s a high chance that if you’ve ever played in one of these indoor play areas that you can still smell it today. While it was fun at the time, the reality is that this play area was full of sticky fingers, broken pieces of chicken nuggets, and a sweaty aroma that seemed to seep into the ropes and all of the other materials. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t very sanitary at all.

These ‘90s Tray Liners Were Way More Interactive Than the Generic Liners of Today

With so many competitors in the fast-food market, we don’t blame McDonald’s for doing everything they can to promote their food and their business. Companies have to use every opportunity, and today restaurants use their liners to promote new products they’re trying to sell. And while this makes sense, we totally miss these old tray liners from the 1990s.

Featuring characters like Ronald McDonald himself and Grimace, these tray liners were a kids’ dream. They had word searches, square games, and other interactive activities to keep kids busy while they were eating their Happy Meal. In fact, many children have fond memories of sitting on the burger seats in McDonald’s and trying to find the lost rainbow.

These ’70s Hand Puppets Were All the Rage Until They Were Deemed to Be Way Too Dangerous

Over the years, McDonald’s has made all kinds of bits and bobs to go alongside their food. This has largely been for kids, and during the 1970s they were all about these plastic hand puppets. Every kid who had a birthday party at McDonald’s – and their guests – were given one of these, and they provided children with hours of fun.

Although these hand puppets seemed like a great idea for a few years, as time wore on kids began to injure themselves with them. Instead of putting them over their hands, they would put them over their heads – and Mcdonald’s didn’t want to cause any more harm. So, they were discontinued and only a few of these iconic puppets remain in the world today.

“I’m Speedier” and ”Custom-Built Hamburgers” Were All the Rage During the 1950s

When you pick up your McDonald’s food from the drive-thru, you just know that you’re going to get it given to you in a brown paper bag that features the iconic golden arches. But what you might not realize is that this logo didn’t come into action until 1961. Before that, there was a hamburger man with his own trademark lines.

From 1955 until 1961, the bags and the other packaging featured this mascot holding signs that read things like “I’m speedier” and “custom-built hamburgers.” It was very detailed and busy, and it seemed as though McDonald’s wanted to create something simpler after that. But true McDonald’s fans will remember this packaging.

Celebrities Used to Visit the Fast Food Joint Just Because They Wanted To

Due to McDonald’s reputation for selling “junk” food, you rarely ever see celebrities visiting these establishments. And even if they did want to eat a hamburger with fries, they’d get their assistant to buy it for them so they didn’t have to show associate themselves with the brand. But celebs haven’t always been afraid to visit the golden arches.

In 1983, British metal band Motorhead decided to head into a McDonald’s restaurant in Chicago to fill up their bellies and have a photoshoot with Ronald McDonald himself. Phil Taylor, Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister, and Brian Robertson happily posed for all of the other customers to see, and they thoroughly enjoyed their time at Mickey D’s. And we don’t blame them.

The Prices Used to Be Much Lower, and You Could Buy a Hamburger for 15 Cents

The world has changed dramatically over the years, and naturally, everything has inflated in price. The cost of living, the minimum wage… and the cost of McDonald’s. But this sign from one of the very first McDonald’s locations shows just how cheap these fast food items used to be. Fifteen cents for a hamburger? Yes, please!

Of course, these prices are all relative – and even today, the prices aren’t too high. That’s because McDonald’s is such a giant corporation that they can buy everything they need in high quantities, making everything cheaper from the get-go. We’re not going to complain too much about the prices now, but the menu back in the day is right up our street.

The First-Ever Ronald McDonald for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Was Retired in 1994

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is an American institution that’s been ongoing since 1924 – and it’s a tradition for many families around the US to tune in to watch it every Thanksgiving. But what you might not know is that McDonald’s first decided to get a slice of the parade pie in 1986, which is when this guy made his debut along the streets of New York.

Eagle-eyed fans will spot that this isn’t the same mascot used in the parade today, though. Although people loved watching this guy glide along with the McDonald’s All-American band, he was retired after the 1994 parade and replaced with another balloon that shows Ronald wearing a red coat with yellow pants and red shoes.