What the McDonald’s Menu Looked Like the Year You Were Born

The McD's menu has changed so much—do you remember when the Quarter Pounder was new?!

The oldest operating McDonald's restaurant in the world in Downey, Los Angeles, California, USA on March 31, 2013.Shutterstock / Allard One

For roughly three-quarters of a century, McDonald’s has been serving burgers and beverages that taste the same in Alaska as they do in Alabama, but the menu has definitely changed over the years. (Hello, $1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu!) Here’s a taste:

1940: Barbecue

Did you know the first McDonald’s menu was barbecue-themed? Yup! The very first McDonald’s restaurant was opened by Dick and Mac McDonald as a car-hop on Fourteenth and E in San Bernardino, California. It offered a barbecue-style menu, and you can see an actual copy of that menu here!

1948: Hamburgers & Cheeseburgers

In 1948, in response to what caught on with customers, the McDonald brothers revamped their restaurant as a walk-up hamburger stand. There were only four food items on the menu (plus milk, coffee and sodas):

  • Hamburger
  • Cheeseburger
  • Potato chips
  • Pie

The hamburgers sold for 15 cents, or about half as much as at a sit-down restaurant. (Speaking of burgers, you don’t want to miss our 10 best burger recipes!)

1949: Fries & Milkshakes

Just one year later, the McDonald brothers introduced french fries and the restaurant’s signature Triple Thick Milkshakes. (Here’s why McDonald’s fries are so good.)

1955: Ray Kroc

Ray Kroc isn’t a menu item, but he’s an important part of the restaurant chain’s story! He discovered the McDonalds brothers’ restaurant—with its simple menu and super-fast hamburgers. He signed on as franchising partner and opened the first McDonald’s east of the Mississippi in Des Plaines, Illinois. The menu, including the low prices, remained virtually the same.

We’ve got more McDonald’s facts for the burger history buffs.

1965: Filet-o-Fish

In 1961, Kroc purchased all the rights to McDonald’s. The first item he added to the national menu was the Filet-O-Fish sandwich, created by Lou Groen, a McDonald’s franchisee in Cincinnati, to help build volume among Catholics. It was advertised as “the fish that catches people.”

1968: Big Mac® and the Hot Apple Pie

The Big Mac was developed by franchisee Jim Delligatti of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1967 and was added to the menu in 1968. You could buy it for about 49 cents. The first TV ad for the Big Mac appeared in 1969 and featured the memorable Ballad of the Big Mac: “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions—on a sesame seed bun!”

The McDonald’s Hot Apple Pie was also introduced in 1968. Back then it was deep-fried. Who could ask for more?

1970: Shamrock Shake

The Shamrock Shake was introduced to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. It originally had a lemon-lime flavor–really! (The mint-vanilla debuted in 1973.) Here’s our history of the Shamrock Shake, plus how to make a copycat version.

1973: Quarter Pounder®

The Quarter Pounder was introduced in Fremont, California in 1971 but became part of the national menu in 1973. The 4-ounce all-beef patty, topped with ketchup, mustard, slivered onions and two dill pickles served on a sesame seed bun, sold for 60 cents. For an extra 10 cents, you could upgrade to a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. (Here’s a photo of a 1973 menu.) If you’re craving a burger now, try a new one from the McDonald’s secret menu.

1975: Egg McMuffin

The Egg McMuffin was created by Herb Peterson of Santa Barbara, California in 1972 and added to the national menu in 1975. It sold for about 63 cents at the time–what a steal! The complete McDonald’s breakfast arrived in 1977.

Don’t have time for the drive-thru? Here are 40 freezer breakfasts you should always have on hand.

1979: The Happy Meal

Turns out the Happy Meal was inspired by popular kids’ cereal that packed toys in the box. They were also in high demand by parents who didn’t want kids “picking” at their own fries. Don’t miss these 16 recipes for people who really really love fries.

1982: McRib Sandwich

The McRib might never have happened if it weren’t for a chicken shortage in the late 1970s. In response to what McDonald’s feared would be a run on McNuggets, the McRib was born…with a one-word slogan that many Gen-Xers will never forget: Chomp.

1983: Chicken McNuggets

Chicken McNuggets, served in some local restaurants as early as 1980, were introduced to all McDonald’s locations in 1983.

What’s better than a good ol’ McNugget? How about a Parmesan Chicken Nugget you make yourself?

1985: Bye, McRib; Hello, McDLT

When the McRib disappeared from the McDonald’s menu, “Mouths were sad. Hope was lost.” But it’s been making short appearances here and there over the years since 1994. We looked into why the McRib keeps disappearing and coming back–here’s our take.

1985 was also the year the McDLT was rolled out to satisfy those who preferred a burger with fresh leaf lettuce and tomatoes (like Burger King’s famous Whopper). McDonald’s had been resisting adding fresh veg to their hamburgers until they came up with a two-compartment box that could keep the cold ingredients away from the hot ones, so the lettuce would stay crisp.

1986: Salads!

Following the lead of other fast food restaurants, McDonald’s started offering healthier choices in 1986 with its salads. They’re still going strong today with options like the Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad. Not bad!

(These spring salad ideas will up your greens game, too.)

1992: Baked Apple Pies

Appealing to customer preferences and trends, the fried apple pie was replaced by a baked variety in 1992. Today, the baked pies are filled with six apples that are handpicked in the US: Fuji, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Rome, Gala and Ida Red.

Of course, you can always make a mouthwatering apple pie at home!

1995: McFlurries

McFlurry Desserts, invented by Ron McLellan, were added to the McDonald’s Canada menu in 1995 and are still the talk of Canadians debating whether Smarties or M&M’s make a better mix-in. Since M&M’s has three new flavors you can vote on, we’re going with M&M’s, at least for now!

2000-2003: LOTS of Menu Changes

The early aughts brought forth a number of new menu items that didn’t last long. Do you remember the Bratwurst, the Cheddar Melt, the McPhilly Cheesesteak, Mighty Wings (with a brief comeback in 2013), Chicken Flatbread or the Corndog? Must’ve slipped our memory! (Here are 11 more menu items you don’t see anymore.) But 2000 was also the year the Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait was introduced, and it’s still going strong. The sweet McGriddle breakfast sandwich made its way to menus in 2001, too.

Honorable mention: The Big ‘N Tasty made its first appearance on the national menu in 2001 and lasted nearly a decade.

2010: Oatmeal

Something you never expected to see on the McDonald’s menu–oatmeal! You might be surprised by some of the ingredients, but it’s still around, so you can check it out for breakfast. (Prefer the homemade stuff? We’re happy to share our top oatmeal ideas.)

2015: All-Day Breakfast

People have hankered for all-day breakfast from McDonald’s since the introduction of the Egg McMuffin. In 2015, it finally happened! The all-day breakfast made it possible to order hotcakes and hashbrowns from dawn ’til dusk and unlocked this secret ordering trick.

Got a hankering for a McDonald’s meal but don’t want to make a trip to the Golden Arches? We’ve got you covered:

Best McDonald's Copycat Recipes
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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly in The Huffington Post as well as a variety of other publications since 2008 on such topics as life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. She is also a writer of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.