Is 'The Founder' A True Story? You'll Never Believe How McDonald's Got Started
One of the most fascinating stories of the year comes in the form of a film about the business deals that brought you a Big Mac on every corner. The Founder tells the tale of the men who made mega-franchise McDonald's the business that we consumers know today. Notably, the word "founder" is singular in the film's title, though it follows multiple men who were all highly involved with the founding and development of the famous fast-food chain, so I think we can all expect lots of deceit and complex relationship dynamics, and the fact that The Founder is a true story is all the more intriguing.
Indeed, the remarkable story told by The Founder, of how salesman Ray Kroc turned a small burger stand into an enormous worldwide mega-corporation, is by and large a true one, especially the parts about Kroc's relationship with the other founders, Richard and Maurice McDonald. Yes, they gave the restaurant its name, opening the first McDonald's in 1940 in San Bernardino, California. In the movie, Kroc is a milkshake salesman who is surprised to learn that one restaurant wants to buy several of his milkshake mixers, rather than a standard one or two. That restaurant turns out to be McDonald's, and Kroc convinces the two McDonald brothers to let him franchise the store out.
In the film, Kroc slowly starts to take over more and more control of the successful and rapidly growing company, eventually owning the company and calling himself the founder. And indeed, in a story for TIME's Money section, the complex history and business dealings of McDonald's are made very clear. Kroc really was a milkshake salesman, and he really did take over franchising from the McDonald brothers, eventually even buying the name and celebrating himself on McDonald's "Founder's Day."
But as the TIME story points out, some elements of the movie don't quite represent the truth. For example, while the film suggests that Kroc gave the McDonald brothers the idea to franchise, and pushed the "golden arches" imagery on them, they in fact "had franchised about six restaurants before they met Kroc" in 1954. And the golden arches, according to a Business Insider timeline, were designed in 1952 by architect Stanley Clark Meston and implemented before Kroc's arrival on the scene.
These subtle differences can be attributed both to the necessity of fictionalizing certain things when making a movie and also to the conflicting stories told by Kroc and the McDonalds. As reported by TIME, Kroc's popular autobiography, Grinding it Out: The Making of McDonald’s, actually had him stating that his McDonald's franchise, in Des Plaines, Ill., was the first McDonald's restaurant ever opened.
And as you'll see if you visit the McDonald's website, there is only one small mention of Richard and Maurice McDonald in the history of the restaurant. With all this drama, I'm definitely interested in seeing the story play out onscreen.