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The Fascinating Origins of the 15 Biggest Fast-Food Chains

The Fascinating Origins of the 15 Biggest Fast-Food Chains


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Even the biggest companies had to start somewhere

Sonic was one of the first restaurants to use carhops back in the '50s.

Starting a company is no easy feat, and opening a restaurant is one of the most challenging endeavors of all. Though it may be hard to believe, the biggest fast-food chains in the country all started out at one solitary location, and each one has its own fascinating backstory.

The Fascinating Origins of the 15 Biggest Fast-Food Chains (Slideshow)

As opposed to some casual restaurant chains like Olive Garden and Bahama Breeze, which were launched by big companies with the express purpose of becoming chains, the vast majority of fast-food chains were the brainchild of one person with a dream. Some of those founders, like Wendy’s Dave Thomas and KFC’s Harland Sanders, became renowned as the chains’ spokesmen, but most chains’ founders, and their chains’ origin stories, languish in obscurity today.

Most chain restaurants’ stories follow a similar narrative structure: A founder (or small group of partners) opens a restaurant, which meets with astonishing success. Then a big company comes along, makes them an offer they can’t refuse, and takes the chain national. But each story has its own fascinating nuances; for example, Subway’s founder was only 17 when he opened the first location, and before founding Wendy’s, Dave Thomas was one of the Midwest’s most successful KFC franchisees.

Read on to learn how the country’s 15 top fast-food chains (according to 2015 systemwide sales, as reported by QSR Magazine) got their starts. It’s easy to think of fast-food companies as faceless behemoths, but in reality, they all started out just like every other small business: with a little startup cash and a dream.


10 Oldest Fast Food Chains in the World

While other countries and civilizations have had “fast food” (foods that can be eaten on the go) for centuries, the concept of fast food as we know it today originated in the United States in the early 20th century. These early pioneers of the fast food industry were some of the first to demand consistency across all of their locations to ensure that their customers had the same experience at every restaurant with their name. Many of these fast food chains invented industry staples, such as the two-way intercom ordering system. All of these fast food chains are still around today and have grown into global powerhouses.

10. Burger King

Year Founded: 1953
Founder(s): Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns
Year Franchising Started: 1953
Current No. of Locations: over 15,200
Headquarters: Miami-Dade County, Florida, USA

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Ildar Sagdejev

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Siqbal

Burger King was founded in 1953 as Insta-Burger King by Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns in Jacksonville, Florida. Kramer and Burns named their new restaurant Insta-Burger King after the Insta-Broiler machines they used to cook their burgers. The broiled burgers were such as hit that Kramer and Burns started franchising right away and required all franchises to use the Insta-Broiler machine.

Insta-Burger King grew rapidly within two years, but began facing financial troubles despite the success. As the company continued to struggle, Miami-based franchisees David Edgerton and James McLamore purchased the company and renamed it Burger King in 1959. Edgerton and McLamore are responsible for many of Burger King’s signature features. They invented the flame broiler machine used today after they realized that the Insta-Broilers would breakdown from the meat drippings. Edgerton and McLamore also created the chain’s mascot, the Burger King in 1955 and McLamore invented the Whopper in 1957. Today, Burger King is one of the largest fast food burger chains in the world and has over 15,000 locations around the world.

Did You Know?

All Burger King restaurants in Australia are called Hungry Jack’s because the name Burger King was already trademarked by a food shop in Adelaide when the company decided to expand into the country. Australian master franchisee, Jack Cowin, chose the name Hungry Jack’s from a list provided to him by Burger King.

9. Sonic

Year Founded: June 18, 1953
Founder(s): Troy Smith
Year Franchising Started: 1956
Current No. of Locations: over 3,606
Headquarters: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA

photo source: Flickr via Mike Mozart


10 Oldest Fast Food Chains in the World

While other countries and civilizations have had “fast food” (foods that can be eaten on the go) for centuries, the concept of fast food as we know it today originated in the United States in the early 20th century. These early pioneers of the fast food industry were some of the first to demand consistency across all of their locations to ensure that their customers had the same experience at every restaurant with their name. Many of these fast food chains invented industry staples, such as the two-way intercom ordering system. All of these fast food chains are still around today and have grown into global powerhouses.

10. Burger King

Year Founded: 1953
Founder(s): Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns
Year Franchising Started: 1953
Current No. of Locations: over 15,200
Headquarters: Miami-Dade County, Florida, USA

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Ildar Sagdejev

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Siqbal

Burger King was founded in 1953 as Insta-Burger King by Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns in Jacksonville, Florida. Kramer and Burns named their new restaurant Insta-Burger King after the Insta-Broiler machines they used to cook their burgers. The broiled burgers were such as hit that Kramer and Burns started franchising right away and required all franchises to use the Insta-Broiler machine.

Insta-Burger King grew rapidly within two years, but began facing financial troubles despite the success. As the company continued to struggle, Miami-based franchisees David Edgerton and James McLamore purchased the company and renamed it Burger King in 1959. Edgerton and McLamore are responsible for many of Burger King’s signature features. They invented the flame broiler machine used today after they realized that the Insta-Broilers would breakdown from the meat drippings. Edgerton and McLamore also created the chain’s mascot, the Burger King in 1955 and McLamore invented the Whopper in 1957. Today, Burger King is one of the largest fast food burger chains in the world and has over 15,000 locations around the world.

Did You Know?

All Burger King restaurants in Australia are called Hungry Jack’s because the name Burger King was already trademarked by a food shop in Adelaide when the company decided to expand into the country. Australian master franchisee, Jack Cowin, chose the name Hungry Jack’s from a list provided to him by Burger King.

9. Sonic

Year Founded: June 18, 1953
Founder(s): Troy Smith
Year Franchising Started: 1956
Current No. of Locations: over 3,606
Headquarters: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA

photo source: Flickr via Mike Mozart


10 Oldest Fast Food Chains in the World

While other countries and civilizations have had “fast food” (foods that can be eaten on the go) for centuries, the concept of fast food as we know it today originated in the United States in the early 20th century. These early pioneers of the fast food industry were some of the first to demand consistency across all of their locations to ensure that their customers had the same experience at every restaurant with their name. Many of these fast food chains invented industry staples, such as the two-way intercom ordering system. All of these fast food chains are still around today and have grown into global powerhouses.

10. Burger King

Year Founded: 1953
Founder(s): Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns
Year Franchising Started: 1953
Current No. of Locations: over 15,200
Headquarters: Miami-Dade County, Florida, USA

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Ildar Sagdejev

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Siqbal

Burger King was founded in 1953 as Insta-Burger King by Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns in Jacksonville, Florida. Kramer and Burns named their new restaurant Insta-Burger King after the Insta-Broiler machines they used to cook their burgers. The broiled burgers were such as hit that Kramer and Burns started franchising right away and required all franchises to use the Insta-Broiler machine.

Insta-Burger King grew rapidly within two years, but began facing financial troubles despite the success. As the company continued to struggle, Miami-based franchisees David Edgerton and James McLamore purchased the company and renamed it Burger King in 1959. Edgerton and McLamore are responsible for many of Burger King’s signature features. They invented the flame broiler machine used today after they realized that the Insta-Broilers would breakdown from the meat drippings. Edgerton and McLamore also created the chain’s mascot, the Burger King in 1955 and McLamore invented the Whopper in 1957. Today, Burger King is one of the largest fast food burger chains in the world and has over 15,000 locations around the world.

Did You Know?

All Burger King restaurants in Australia are called Hungry Jack’s because the name Burger King was already trademarked by a food shop in Adelaide when the company decided to expand into the country. Australian master franchisee, Jack Cowin, chose the name Hungry Jack’s from a list provided to him by Burger King.

9. Sonic

Year Founded: June 18, 1953
Founder(s): Troy Smith
Year Franchising Started: 1956
Current No. of Locations: over 3,606
Headquarters: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA

photo source: Flickr via Mike Mozart


10 Oldest Fast Food Chains in the World

While other countries and civilizations have had “fast food” (foods that can be eaten on the go) for centuries, the concept of fast food as we know it today originated in the United States in the early 20th century. These early pioneers of the fast food industry were some of the first to demand consistency across all of their locations to ensure that their customers had the same experience at every restaurant with their name. Many of these fast food chains invented industry staples, such as the two-way intercom ordering system. All of these fast food chains are still around today and have grown into global powerhouses.

10. Burger King

Year Founded: 1953
Founder(s): Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns
Year Franchising Started: 1953
Current No. of Locations: over 15,200
Headquarters: Miami-Dade County, Florida, USA

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Ildar Sagdejev

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Siqbal

Burger King was founded in 1953 as Insta-Burger King by Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns in Jacksonville, Florida. Kramer and Burns named their new restaurant Insta-Burger King after the Insta-Broiler machines they used to cook their burgers. The broiled burgers were such as hit that Kramer and Burns started franchising right away and required all franchises to use the Insta-Broiler machine.

Insta-Burger King grew rapidly within two years, but began facing financial troubles despite the success. As the company continued to struggle, Miami-based franchisees David Edgerton and James McLamore purchased the company and renamed it Burger King in 1959. Edgerton and McLamore are responsible for many of Burger King’s signature features. They invented the flame broiler machine used today after they realized that the Insta-Broilers would breakdown from the meat drippings. Edgerton and McLamore also created the chain’s mascot, the Burger King in 1955 and McLamore invented the Whopper in 1957. Today, Burger King is one of the largest fast food burger chains in the world and has over 15,000 locations around the world.

Did You Know?

All Burger King restaurants in Australia are called Hungry Jack’s because the name Burger King was already trademarked by a food shop in Adelaide when the company decided to expand into the country. Australian master franchisee, Jack Cowin, chose the name Hungry Jack’s from a list provided to him by Burger King.

9. Sonic

Year Founded: June 18, 1953
Founder(s): Troy Smith
Year Franchising Started: 1956
Current No. of Locations: over 3,606
Headquarters: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA

photo source: Flickr via Mike Mozart


10 Oldest Fast Food Chains in the World

While other countries and civilizations have had “fast food” (foods that can be eaten on the go) for centuries, the concept of fast food as we know it today originated in the United States in the early 20th century. These early pioneers of the fast food industry were some of the first to demand consistency across all of their locations to ensure that their customers had the same experience at every restaurant with their name. Many of these fast food chains invented industry staples, such as the two-way intercom ordering system. All of these fast food chains are still around today and have grown into global powerhouses.

10. Burger King

Year Founded: 1953
Founder(s): Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns
Year Franchising Started: 1953
Current No. of Locations: over 15,200
Headquarters: Miami-Dade County, Florida, USA

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Ildar Sagdejev

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Siqbal

Burger King was founded in 1953 as Insta-Burger King by Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns in Jacksonville, Florida. Kramer and Burns named their new restaurant Insta-Burger King after the Insta-Broiler machines they used to cook their burgers. The broiled burgers were such as hit that Kramer and Burns started franchising right away and required all franchises to use the Insta-Broiler machine.

Insta-Burger King grew rapidly within two years, but began facing financial troubles despite the success. As the company continued to struggle, Miami-based franchisees David Edgerton and James McLamore purchased the company and renamed it Burger King in 1959. Edgerton and McLamore are responsible for many of Burger King’s signature features. They invented the flame broiler machine used today after they realized that the Insta-Broilers would breakdown from the meat drippings. Edgerton and McLamore also created the chain’s mascot, the Burger King in 1955 and McLamore invented the Whopper in 1957. Today, Burger King is one of the largest fast food burger chains in the world and has over 15,000 locations around the world.

Did You Know?

All Burger King restaurants in Australia are called Hungry Jack’s because the name Burger King was already trademarked by a food shop in Adelaide when the company decided to expand into the country. Australian master franchisee, Jack Cowin, chose the name Hungry Jack’s from a list provided to him by Burger King.

9. Sonic

Year Founded: June 18, 1953
Founder(s): Troy Smith
Year Franchising Started: 1956
Current No. of Locations: over 3,606
Headquarters: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA

photo source: Flickr via Mike Mozart


10 Oldest Fast Food Chains in the World

While other countries and civilizations have had “fast food” (foods that can be eaten on the go) for centuries, the concept of fast food as we know it today originated in the United States in the early 20th century. These early pioneers of the fast food industry were some of the first to demand consistency across all of their locations to ensure that their customers had the same experience at every restaurant with their name. Many of these fast food chains invented industry staples, such as the two-way intercom ordering system. All of these fast food chains are still around today and have grown into global powerhouses.

10. Burger King

Year Founded: 1953
Founder(s): Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns
Year Franchising Started: 1953
Current No. of Locations: over 15,200
Headquarters: Miami-Dade County, Florida, USA

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Ildar Sagdejev

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Siqbal

Burger King was founded in 1953 as Insta-Burger King by Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns in Jacksonville, Florida. Kramer and Burns named their new restaurant Insta-Burger King after the Insta-Broiler machines they used to cook their burgers. The broiled burgers were such as hit that Kramer and Burns started franchising right away and required all franchises to use the Insta-Broiler machine.

Insta-Burger King grew rapidly within two years, but began facing financial troubles despite the success. As the company continued to struggle, Miami-based franchisees David Edgerton and James McLamore purchased the company and renamed it Burger King in 1959. Edgerton and McLamore are responsible for many of Burger King’s signature features. They invented the flame broiler machine used today after they realized that the Insta-Broilers would breakdown from the meat drippings. Edgerton and McLamore also created the chain’s mascot, the Burger King in 1955 and McLamore invented the Whopper in 1957. Today, Burger King is one of the largest fast food burger chains in the world and has over 15,000 locations around the world.

Did You Know?

All Burger King restaurants in Australia are called Hungry Jack’s because the name Burger King was already trademarked by a food shop in Adelaide when the company decided to expand into the country. Australian master franchisee, Jack Cowin, chose the name Hungry Jack’s from a list provided to him by Burger King.

9. Sonic

Year Founded: June 18, 1953
Founder(s): Troy Smith
Year Franchising Started: 1956
Current No. of Locations: over 3,606
Headquarters: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA

photo source: Flickr via Mike Mozart


10 Oldest Fast Food Chains in the World

While other countries and civilizations have had “fast food” (foods that can be eaten on the go) for centuries, the concept of fast food as we know it today originated in the United States in the early 20th century. These early pioneers of the fast food industry were some of the first to demand consistency across all of their locations to ensure that their customers had the same experience at every restaurant with their name. Many of these fast food chains invented industry staples, such as the two-way intercom ordering system. All of these fast food chains are still around today and have grown into global powerhouses.

10. Burger King

Year Founded: 1953
Founder(s): Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns
Year Franchising Started: 1953
Current No. of Locations: over 15,200
Headquarters: Miami-Dade County, Florida, USA

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Ildar Sagdejev

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Siqbal

Burger King was founded in 1953 as Insta-Burger King by Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns in Jacksonville, Florida. Kramer and Burns named their new restaurant Insta-Burger King after the Insta-Broiler machines they used to cook their burgers. The broiled burgers were such as hit that Kramer and Burns started franchising right away and required all franchises to use the Insta-Broiler machine.

Insta-Burger King grew rapidly within two years, but began facing financial troubles despite the success. As the company continued to struggle, Miami-based franchisees David Edgerton and James McLamore purchased the company and renamed it Burger King in 1959. Edgerton and McLamore are responsible for many of Burger King’s signature features. They invented the flame broiler machine used today after they realized that the Insta-Broilers would breakdown from the meat drippings. Edgerton and McLamore also created the chain’s mascot, the Burger King in 1955 and McLamore invented the Whopper in 1957. Today, Burger King is one of the largest fast food burger chains in the world and has over 15,000 locations around the world.

Did You Know?

All Burger King restaurants in Australia are called Hungry Jack’s because the name Burger King was already trademarked by a food shop in Adelaide when the company decided to expand into the country. Australian master franchisee, Jack Cowin, chose the name Hungry Jack’s from a list provided to him by Burger King.

9. Sonic

Year Founded: June 18, 1953
Founder(s): Troy Smith
Year Franchising Started: 1956
Current No. of Locations: over 3,606
Headquarters: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA

photo source: Flickr via Mike Mozart


10 Oldest Fast Food Chains in the World

While other countries and civilizations have had “fast food” (foods that can be eaten on the go) for centuries, the concept of fast food as we know it today originated in the United States in the early 20th century. These early pioneers of the fast food industry were some of the first to demand consistency across all of their locations to ensure that their customers had the same experience at every restaurant with their name. Many of these fast food chains invented industry staples, such as the two-way intercom ordering system. All of these fast food chains are still around today and have grown into global powerhouses.

10. Burger King

Year Founded: 1953
Founder(s): Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns
Year Franchising Started: 1953
Current No. of Locations: over 15,200
Headquarters: Miami-Dade County, Florida, USA

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Ildar Sagdejev

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Siqbal

Burger King was founded in 1953 as Insta-Burger King by Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns in Jacksonville, Florida. Kramer and Burns named their new restaurant Insta-Burger King after the Insta-Broiler machines they used to cook their burgers. The broiled burgers were such as hit that Kramer and Burns started franchising right away and required all franchises to use the Insta-Broiler machine.

Insta-Burger King grew rapidly within two years, but began facing financial troubles despite the success. As the company continued to struggle, Miami-based franchisees David Edgerton and James McLamore purchased the company and renamed it Burger King in 1959. Edgerton and McLamore are responsible for many of Burger King’s signature features. They invented the flame broiler machine used today after they realized that the Insta-Broilers would breakdown from the meat drippings. Edgerton and McLamore also created the chain’s mascot, the Burger King in 1955 and McLamore invented the Whopper in 1957. Today, Burger King is one of the largest fast food burger chains in the world and has over 15,000 locations around the world.

Did You Know?

All Burger King restaurants in Australia are called Hungry Jack’s because the name Burger King was already trademarked by a food shop in Adelaide when the company decided to expand into the country. Australian master franchisee, Jack Cowin, chose the name Hungry Jack’s from a list provided to him by Burger King.

9. Sonic

Year Founded: June 18, 1953
Founder(s): Troy Smith
Year Franchising Started: 1956
Current No. of Locations: over 3,606
Headquarters: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA

photo source: Flickr via Mike Mozart


10 Oldest Fast Food Chains in the World

While other countries and civilizations have had “fast food” (foods that can be eaten on the go) for centuries, the concept of fast food as we know it today originated in the United States in the early 20th century. These early pioneers of the fast food industry were some of the first to demand consistency across all of their locations to ensure that their customers had the same experience at every restaurant with their name. Many of these fast food chains invented industry staples, such as the two-way intercom ordering system. All of these fast food chains are still around today and have grown into global powerhouses.

10. Burger King

Year Founded: 1953
Founder(s): Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns
Year Franchising Started: 1953
Current No. of Locations: over 15,200
Headquarters: Miami-Dade County, Florida, USA

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Ildar Sagdejev

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Siqbal

Burger King was founded in 1953 as Insta-Burger King by Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns in Jacksonville, Florida. Kramer and Burns named their new restaurant Insta-Burger King after the Insta-Broiler machines they used to cook their burgers. The broiled burgers were such as hit that Kramer and Burns started franchising right away and required all franchises to use the Insta-Broiler machine.

Insta-Burger King grew rapidly within two years, but began facing financial troubles despite the success. As the company continued to struggle, Miami-based franchisees David Edgerton and James McLamore purchased the company and renamed it Burger King in 1959. Edgerton and McLamore are responsible for many of Burger King’s signature features. They invented the flame broiler machine used today after they realized that the Insta-Broilers would breakdown from the meat drippings. Edgerton and McLamore also created the chain’s mascot, the Burger King in 1955 and McLamore invented the Whopper in 1957. Today, Burger King is one of the largest fast food burger chains in the world and has over 15,000 locations around the world.

Did You Know?

All Burger King restaurants in Australia are called Hungry Jack’s because the name Burger King was already trademarked by a food shop in Adelaide when the company decided to expand into the country. Australian master franchisee, Jack Cowin, chose the name Hungry Jack’s from a list provided to him by Burger King.

9. Sonic

Year Founded: June 18, 1953
Founder(s): Troy Smith
Year Franchising Started: 1956
Current No. of Locations: over 3,606
Headquarters: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA

photo source: Flickr via Mike Mozart


10 Oldest Fast Food Chains in the World

While other countries and civilizations have had “fast food” (foods that can be eaten on the go) for centuries, the concept of fast food as we know it today originated in the United States in the early 20th century. These early pioneers of the fast food industry were some of the first to demand consistency across all of their locations to ensure that their customers had the same experience at every restaurant with their name. Many of these fast food chains invented industry staples, such as the two-way intercom ordering system. All of these fast food chains are still around today and have grown into global powerhouses.

10. Burger King

Year Founded: 1953
Founder(s): Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns
Year Franchising Started: 1953
Current No. of Locations: over 15,200
Headquarters: Miami-Dade County, Florida, USA

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Ildar Sagdejev

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via Siqbal

Burger King was founded in 1953 as Insta-Burger King by Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns in Jacksonville, Florida. Kramer and Burns named their new restaurant Insta-Burger King after the Insta-Broiler machines they used to cook their burgers. The broiled burgers were such as hit that Kramer and Burns started franchising right away and required all franchises to use the Insta-Broiler machine.

Insta-Burger King grew rapidly within two years, but began facing financial troubles despite the success. As the company continued to struggle, Miami-based franchisees David Edgerton and James McLamore purchased the company and renamed it Burger King in 1959. Edgerton and McLamore are responsible for many of Burger King’s signature features. They invented the flame broiler machine used today after they realized that the Insta-Broilers would breakdown from the meat drippings. Edgerton and McLamore also created the chain’s mascot, the Burger King in 1955 and McLamore invented the Whopper in 1957. Today, Burger King is one of the largest fast food burger chains in the world and has over 15,000 locations around the world.

Did You Know?

All Burger King restaurants in Australia are called Hungry Jack’s because the name Burger King was already trademarked by a food shop in Adelaide when the company decided to expand into the country. Australian master franchisee, Jack Cowin, chose the name Hungry Jack’s from a list provided to him by Burger King.

9. Sonic

Year Founded: June 18, 1953
Founder(s): Troy Smith
Year Franchising Started: 1956
Current No. of Locations: over 3,606
Headquarters: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA

photo source: Flickr via Mike Mozart



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