18 Things You Didn’t Know About The History Of Fast Food

For something so fast, it was slow goin’.

1. 24-hour noodle stands were the first fast food restaurants.

Noodle stands that stayed open all night were first recorded in a Han Dynasty text, dated back to 25–205 AD. Like ancient halal carts, but with noodles.

Wikipedia Commons / Via commons.wikimedia.org

2. Fast food has a long history of being gross and sleazy.

In Medieval Europe, cookshops provided ready-made meals — such as pies made with animal offals. Cookshops were unsanitary and often served spoiled food, like the infamous Tabard Inn from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Mm…organ pies.

Hulton Archive

3. Oysters were fast food once. Yep, oysters.

Street food carts appeared in New York City between the 1700s and 1800s selling oysters from the Hudson River’s 350 miles of oyster bays. Jonathan Swift once said, “It was a brave man who first ate an oyster.” Well, that guy’s discovery essentially fed New York City on-the-go for decades.

Detroit Publishing Co. / Via loc.gov

4. Thank Thomas Jefferson every time you upgrade your sandwich to a meal.

In 1802, Jefferson had “potatoes served in the French manner” at the White House and subsequently introduced French fries to America. Now, it’s the second most popular fast food item. Thanks, Founding Father!



5. The earliest fast food joints were vending machines.

Insert coins, receive food. Automats, vending machine restaurants, were invented by Max Sielaff in Berlin in 1896. Joseph Horn and James Hardart opened their NYC version, Horn & Hardart, in 1902, thereby bringing “fast food” to America. Wonder if Sielaff ever saw this coming.

Max Sielaff



6. White Castle was the first modern fast food chain in America.

In 1921, Walt A. Anderson and Billy Ingram opened the first modern fast food chain, White Castle, in Wichita, KS. Once credited with overturning the stigma against ground beef, White Castle is now best known for this stoner classic.


7. Drive-Ins preceded drive-thrus and were a HUGE thing.

In 1921, Jesse G. Kirby and Rueben W. Jackson opened the Pig Stand in Dallas, TX, America’s first drive-in, and changes fast food forever. Kirby has been quoted saying, “People with cars are so lazy,” Kirby explained, “they don’t want to get out of them.” Still true.

Michael Witzel / Via michaelwitzel.com

8. Colonel Sanders’ original recipe is guarded in a vault.

In 1940, Harland Sanders finalized his Original Recipe of 11 spices and herbs. The recipe is STILL a well-guarded secret.

Wikipedia Commons / Via en.wikipedia.org

9. McDonald’s makes burgers like Ford makes cars.

Ransom E. Olds created the assembly line method for faster car manufacturing. In 1948, Richard and Maurice McDonald revamped their old San Bernardino, CA drive-in and pioneered the method in the kitchen for maximum efficiency — by 1963, they had the ability to turn out a burger, fries, and a shake in 15 seconds flat.

Wikipedia Commons / Via en.wikipedia.org

10. Burger King, inspired by Mickey D’s, made things new.

Founded in 1953 by Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns in Miami, FL, Burger King sought a new approach to fast food. Rather than an assembly line burger, they chose to cater to the picky eater. Like the immortal words of Bon Qui Qui state, “Have it your way, but don’t get crazy.”


11. Animal Style changed the game in 1961.

In-N-Out is founded in Baldwin Park, CA in 1948 by Harry and Esther Snyder. But the Animal Style burger is first made at the request of customer in 1961, now a fixture on their “secret” menu, which is more of a “if you don’t know, you’re don’t know nothing” menu.


12. Taco Bell was started by a white guy.

In 1962, Taco Bell is started in Downey, CA by Glen Bell. Their mission was to make the price of everything around the extravagant figure of $1. Let’s all take a moment and stare at the picture of Glen Bell wearing a sombrero.

Wikipedia Commons

Taco Bell / tacobell.com


13. Dave Thomas ripped off Wendy’s from another chain.

Dave Thomas starts Wendy’s in Columbus, OH, and introduces the Frosty to the world, making Wendy’s a strong contender in the Burger Wars. Dave Thomas admits that Wendy’s was inspired by much smaller chain Kewpee Hamburgers, which he loved as a child.

14. A Guatemalan woman invented the Happy Meal.

A savvy franchise owner in Guatemala named Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño came up with the idea in the mid-70s to make meals that were kid-sized. McDonald’s rolled out Happy Meals in 1979.

Calgary Reviews / Creative Commons

15. The original BK Kids Club was missing an Asian.

Burger King introduced The Burger King Kids Club Gang, intended to be multi-ethnic and relatable to all. They were missing a few crucial minority groups, namely Asians. They added Jazz, the Asian female trumpet player, in the early 2000s.

Burger King


16. Pizza Hut might have stolen stuffed crust from a Brooklyn dude.

In 1995, Pizza Hut unveiled their stuffed crust pizza and was sued for a billion dollars by Anthony Mongiella, who had patented the idea in 1987. Despite the controversy, the deliciousness of stuffed crust pizza can’t be denied.

Pizza Hut / en.wikipedia.org

jeffreyw/ Creative Commons


17. Fine dining has done fast food — and succeeded.

Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, previously of Gramercy Tavern fame, wins the bid to open up a kiosk in NYC’s Madison Square Park and Shake Shack is born in 2004. It has quickly become a staple of the East Coast fast food landscape.

Wikipedia Commons / Via en.wikipedia.org

18. Of 196 countries in the world, McDonald’s is in 119 of them.

With its opening in Bosnia, Herzgovina, and Trinidad & Tobago in 2011, McDonald’s now operates in 119 countries. That’s 61% of the world’s countries. Like, holy cow.

David Paul Morris / Getty Images

Love it or hate it, fast food has played a hand in shaping history. So the next time you chow down, remember, you have history in your mouth.

Pool / Getty Images

Evening Standard / Hulton Archive

Guang Niu / Getty Images


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