Visiting the Original McDonald’s Museum | San Bernardino, CA
Right in the heart of San Bernardino lies a forgotten piece of American history. The site of the Original McDonald’s. Built by Richard and Maurice McDonald in 1940 the McDonald’s were serving burgers a full seven years before the McDonald’s we know today began opening franchises in the midwest. While the building is long gone an unofficial “Original McDonald’s Museum” now stands in its place.
The Unofficial Museum sits on the corner of 14th and E. St in San Bernardino, CA. Free to the public the site is open seven days a week. This quirky museum is full of nick nacks and newspaper clippings spanning McDonald’s 70-year history. While the Original McDonald’s Museum isn’t for everyone, it’s great for people looking for something to do that’s off the beaten path.
Visiting the Original McDonald’s Museum
I found the unofficial McDonald’s museum to be an oddly pleasant surprise. I had no idea what I was going to see when I went, but the free admission convinced me to check it out.
The first thing I noticed was the old playground statues of McDonald’s characters of the ’80s and ’90s that surrounded the building. Also, the outside walls are covered in vibrant murals depicting the areas local history, McDonald’s as well as Route 66.
When you enter, you’re greeted by a giant Ronald McDonald statue bookending two rows of display cases. The building is jam-packed with McDonald’s memorabilia. It had a retro vibe that reminded me of comic shop hangouts of the past.
Wandering the aisles, you can sense the passion put into the displays: fun facts and historical information’s abundant. I went in not knowing what to expect but soon found myself going from one display to another wanting to learn more.
It’s pure nostalgia, Every time I stumbled across a happy meal toy I once had as a kid I remembered just how much I loved going to McDonald’s as a kid.
We had no idea McDonald’s Originated in California
It never ceases to amaze us how quickly misinformation becomes history. Having lived in Southern California for nearly 30 years, I was shocked to find out McDonald’s began in California. When I mentioned this to a friend, he recommended me to watch, “The Founder.” A 2016 movie starring Michael Keaton that brought this whole situation to the big screen.
To the movies credit, the buzz generated from the movie lead McDonald’s to finally acknowledge Richard and Marice McDonald as “co-creators” of McDonald’s.
It all started in 1937 when Richard and Maurice McDonald opened their first carhop called Airdrome. Over the years they realized burgers and fries were making up 80% of their sales. So the brothers decided to focus on selling burgers with production line speed. In 1948 they opened, “McDonald’s” and it grew into a successful restaurant chain throughout the area. By 1954, the original location had increased to 9 and McDonald’s was doing well. People were starting to take notice.
That’s when a businessman named Ray Croc came in and turned the brother’s dream of McDonald’s into his American dream instead. Eventually, taking the restaurant chain away from Richard and Maurice and making McDonald’s into one of the biggest companies in the world.
Erasing the Brothers
Moving forward, Ray did his best to erase the brothers from the history of McDonald’s. Going as far to say his Des Plaines, Illinois restaurant that opened in 1955 was the first location.
After the brothers called it quits the San Bernardino location was sold and eventually torn down. It wasn’t until a restaurateur named Albert Okura purchased the site and turned it into a quirky museum to celebrate McDonald’s forgotten history.
In 1998 his Original McDonald’s Museum became a historical site that was eventually acknowledged by the company but never endorsed.
Really interesting stuff
Overall, Kairi and I spent about 30 minutes exploring the museum and left satisfied. We learned a lot, and I had an enjoyable time pointing out things to my daughter.
McDonald’s has changed a lot over the years, and it’s not a place I go to often. But I’ll have to admit the Original McDonald’s Museum brought back a lot of fun memories.
If anything the trip down memory lane made me appreciate the McDonald’s Corporation a little more. They showed me if someone tries hard enough and creates something special another person can just come along and take it from them. Hmm well now, that’s depressing.
Should You Check It Out?
Should you drive all the way down from LA or Orange County to visit the Original McDonald’s Museum?
While the museum is jam-packed full of memorabilia, I don’t think the average person would think there is enough to warrant an hour drive. But, I would group a visit to the Original McDonald’s Museum with a few other standout places in the area.
I would recommend seeing the Original McDonald’s Museum as a pit stop on a drive up to Big Bear Lake, or maybe include the 20-minute drive south to the March Field Air Museum in Moreno Valley to your visit. If you do that I would recommend a visit.
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