McDonald’s is one of the most recognizable brands on the entire planet. They have tens of thousands of stores across the world, in over 100 countries. A large part of their success is their consistent branding and how easily identifiable the McDonald’s logo is. If you see the golden arches somewhere, you immediately know what this means and what you can expect.
However, this wasn’t the original McDonald’s logo. It’s worth it to look back on the interesting history of this brand to understand the evolution of its logo and marketing.
The Origins of McDonald’s
Before it was McDonald’s as we know it today, the restaurant was just a small food stand called the Airdrome. Opened by Patrick McDonald in Monrovia, California in 1937, the little octagonal stand differed in the menu as well as the name – it mostly sold hot dogs, though hamburgers would eventually be added to the roster later.
Within three years, things changed, but not yet in a way that could resemble the place that would later be the McDonald’s we all know and love. Patrick’s sons, Maurice and Dick, revamped the Airdrome and relocated it to San Bernandino, California. Here, the little drive-thru would be called McDonald’s Bar-B-Que. As for the food, as you might expect from the new name, more than forty barbecued options were on the menu.
By 1948, the McDonald brothers overhauled the restaurant again, and ‘McDonald’s Famous Hamburgers’ was born. They had figured out that most of the profits came from the hamburgers that they served, so they decided to refocus the menu on just them, and a few other items like apple pie, milkshakes, and fries. They also switched from offering carhops to a self-service system. A few short years later, in 1953, the last two words of the name were dropped. Finally, McDonald’s was born – in both name and menu.
Logos Before the Golden Arches
There were logos for the earlier iterations of McDonald’s but the famous ‘golden arches’ wouldn’t appear for some time.
Before the switch to barbecue in 1940, the Airdrome, as McDonald’s was first called, didn’t really have a particularly recognizable logo. The food stand featured a sign with an italicized ‘The’ before ‘Airdrome’, which had a stylized ‘D’ and a line through the whole word.
Mcdonald’s Bar-B-Que (stylized as McDonald’s Famous Barbecue)
Once the brothers McDonald moved the restaurant to San Bernandino and switched up the menu, the logo was updated with the name change. McDonald’s Famous Barbecue kept the italicized first word and used a similar font. However, now the name of the restaurant was written on three levels, with the middle world, ‘famous’ bracketed by double lines on either side. ‘Barbecue’ was also larger than the other words in the name, likely to emphasize the cuisine that they offered.
McDonald’s Famous Hamburgers
In 1948, after the restaurant became a hamburger joint, the logo was updated to reflect
the change. The new McDonald’s logo featured some similarities in structure to the old ‘Barbecue’ one. For instance, it was three words stacked vertically, with ‘famous’ having the smallest typeset and being positioned in the middle. However, now, the logo had a new font that was perhaps more fun, and less formal. It also did away with the parallel lines that had surrounded the middle word. This logo also incorporated a few new elements: it was now white text against a background, had a small smiling chef mascot at the top, and featured “15¢” written in a large size point on either side of “McDonald’s”.
The logo was changed dramatically with the shortened name in 1953. The new design
was colorful and featured the charming and cartoonish smiling chef from the previous logo. However, now he was placed center stage and had more detail to his drawing. He also held a sign that read ‘I’M “SPEEDEE”’ to help make it clear how quick the service was for the streamlined system that the McDonald’s brothers had developed. Above the chef, the brand’s name was written in a red, playful font. Below him, there was also a red banner that read “coast to coast” signifying the restaurant’s expansion and the existence of franchises. There was also a small “15¢” in a blue circle, to show the price point remained the same. The entire logo was round, and tied together with three thin line drawings of circles.
Enter the Golden Arches
In 1952, the McDonald brothers became interested in franchising their restaurant. They began interviewing architects to help design the next location, but they struggled to find one that saw eye-to-eye with them. The golden arches were already a crucial part of the brothers’ vision, though they would not become part of the logo for years more.
The brothers wanted to build a restaurant with an arch on either side. It wasn’t until they found architect Stanley Clark Meston that they found someone who could see the potential in this design. The arches would serve to bring attention to the restaurant, it would stand out dramatically, and draw traffic from drivers.
The first franchise was owned by Neil Fox and opened in 1953. All of the subsequent restaurants opened under the McDonald’s name would feature the same double gold arch design for years to come.
A New Logo for A New Era
In the mid-1950s, Ray Kroc became the franchise manager for the burgeoning empire of McDonald’s. He was a very savvy businessman and helped to place a location in just about every area of the country. Ray eventually would go on to buy the company outright in 1961 for almost 3 million dollars, which is a lot now, but was a massive sum then. Now at the helm, Ray was able to further grow the company. There were more than a thousand restaurants in America alone by 1968
Once Ray Kroc had bought the company in 1961, it became apparent that McDonald’s was due for a new logo. Incorporating the golden arches of the physical locations was a logical next step, at least it seemed to be for Jim Schindler, the corporation’s head of constructions and engineering. Jim created the first version of the iconic logo, which finally combined the double arches into an ‘M’ shape, to match the name of the restaurants.
This first golden-arch logo is similar to the ones that we are all familiar with today. It features the classic yellow and red colors of McDonald’s, and the text of the name looks consistent with more modern iterations. The biggest differences are with the arches themselves. The two arches cross each other in the middle of the “M” shape, instead of sharing a middle leg. There is also a diagonal line that runs through the entire logo. The combination of the overlapping arches and the extra line running through them was meant to make this logo resemble the actual restaurant locations from an angle.
The Next Series of McDonald’s Logos
In the late sixties, the restaurant chain changed the franchise design. Stores no longer would feature the golden arches on either side of the building. The symbol wouldn’t be abandoned, it was still used as a sign post for the restaurants, and was already incorporated into the logo. However, since the first double arch logo was meant to resemble the physical locations, this meant that it was time for a new logo.
The next logo was very similar to the previous one and is also very like the version that we are familiar with today. The golden arches make the “M” shape, but they join in the center, instead of overlapping. The diagonal line is also removed, but the name of the chain crosses through the arches instead.
In 1975, the logo was revised again, though minor changes were made. Mostly, the
colors were played around with in this design. The ‘McDonald’s’ text was changed to white to stand out against this new red background that was also implemented. This one is still in play today. It’s simple and classic.
The nineties brought McDonald’s a classic logo. A red trapezoid was placed beneath the
golden arches, and the name of the restaurant was moved inside this new shape. The red background was done away with, to provide contrast, and there is also some shading that was implemented on both the arches and the box around ‘McDonald’s’. We can still see variations of this logo frequently today, as many signs were constructed to mimic the shape and are still in use.
Just a year later, another variation of the logo was introduced. This is a pared-down version of the classic design. There is no text reading “McDonald’s” or bright red coloring. All we have is the classic golden arches, with a shadow behind them. We can see that around this time, new versions of the logos stopped being drastically different from each other. McDonald’s had already arrived at their iconic branding, and would only make subtle alterations going forward.
Ten years later, the logo was very slightly altered to add some highlights across the
golden arches. More significant, however, was the tagline that was introduced along with this change. ‘I’m lovin’ it’ is a slogan that is still in use today. Just the simple phrase has become synonymous with the brand.
The next version is the most minimalist logo for the brand. It’s similar to the 90s version
that removed all text, but in this one, the shadow has been taken out as well. All that remains is the classic golden arches.
Which McDonald’s Logo is Currently Used?
You may wonder which of these classic logos is the official one today, since many of them are likely to look familiar. The answer is that several of them are actually currently used. Different ads, campaigns, and promotional materials will feature slight variations of the classic McDonald’s logo, so several of these famous and recognizable logos are still in use
The McDonald’s Logo Design Elements
There have been many different evolutions of the logo throughout the company’s nearly hundred-year history. The early logos don’t really have a lot in common with the modern versions. However, for the past fifty years, McDonald’s logos have been quite consistent, so by limiting ourselves to an analysis of this selection of icons, we can see some key design elements.
This is fairly clear – the golden arches are the symbol of McDonald’s, and every modern
logo features their long, curving M-like shape.
Not every logo has a font, because some avoid text altogether. However, for each of the ones that do incorporate text, it’s a bold, simple font, with easy-to-read and round lettering.
The color scheme of McDonald’s has been consistently red and gold throughout the last half-century. White or black are typically used for the text as well. Gold is also clearly the most essential color, as we have logos that just include the arches in gold, and don’t have any red element.
Lessons From the McDonald’s Logo
The McDonald’s logo is a really strong example of great branding. It was designed around the already familiar arch-feature of the physical stores, which is a great strategy to make customers immediately connect the new logo with something they are already aware of. It goes a long way to improving brand recognition.
Furthermore, the shift to the golden arch logo was significant because it made an “M” out of the arches, which is a great idea because it reinforces that this logo is inextricably tied to this restaurant because it stands for the name.
Nowadays, McDonald’s is so massive and well-known that they are able to strip the logo down to its bare bones and have it still be effective marketing. The fact that McDonald’s can remove all text, shadows, or color elements beyond the golden arches, and still have it immediately recognizable proves to illustrate how iconic this logo is. It indicates that the marketing has been really strong and that there is value in a really simple logo that is easily produced but uniquely designed.