White Castle, founded in 1921, is generally considered the first fast food restaurant. It was in the 1940s that the concept really got some traction, though. The decade paved the way for the industry’s significant growth in the 1950s—particularly with the founding of the world’s most famous and successful fast food restaurant of all time, number one on the list below. Here are four notable fast food restaurants started in the 1940s that Americans (and others around the world) are still eating at today.
Here’s a look at a few well-known fast food restaurants started in the 1940s that lots of Americans are still eating at today. And, you can continue with this mid-century history lesson by checking out our piece on fast food restaurants started in the ’50s after this.
Fast Food Chains Founded in the 1940s
- McDonald’s – Richard and Maurice McDonald opened the first location of the world’s most famous (and largest by revenue) fast food chain in San Bernardino, CA in 1940. It introduced its Speedee Service System in 1948, building off innovations by White Castle and revolutionizing restaurant service. Franchiser Ray Kroc, who became involved in the ’50s, is credited with much of the brand’s development.
- Dairy Queen – The first DQ opened in Joliet, IL in 1940. It was operated by Sherb Noble, who got in early on the soft-serve ice cream phenomenon that was first developed in 1938. Under the franchising model, Dairy Queen had over 100 locations by 1947 and 2,600 by 1955. Today, it has more than 6,400 stores in over 25 countries, with about 4,500 of them in the US.
- Carl’s Jr. – Carl and Margaret Karcher started a hot dog cart in 1941 in Los Angeles. In 1945, they moved to Anaheim, CA and opened a full-service restaurant called Carl’s Drive-In Barbecue. Next, two smaller versions of the restaurant opened as Carl’s Jr. Today, its parent company has more than 3,600 franchises and corporate-owned locations around the world.
- In-N-Out Burger – This well known but regional fast food chain was founded in 1948 in Baldwin Park, CA by Harry and Esther Snyder. It was the first drive-thru hamburger stand in the state. The 300th In-N-Out Burger opened in 2015, and today there are more than 330 locations. Most stores are in California, but it has also expanded into Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Oregon.