The United States of McDonald’s

McDonald's is mind-boggling. According to Adam Chandler, author of the recent book, Drive-Thru Dreams, it sells roughly 75 burgers every second and serves 68 million people every day—equivalent to 1 percent of the entire world's population. "The golden arches are thought to be, according to an independent survey, more recognizable as a symbol than the Christian cross is around the world," Chandler told us. This episode, we tell the story of McDonald's—but more importantly, we explore what it has to say about who we are. To do that, we're also joined by historian Marcia Chatelain, author of the new book Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, who helps us unpack the troubled but fascinating relationship between McDonald's and African Americans. Why did taxpayers end up funding the spread of McDonald's into the inner city "food deserts" it now dominates? Who invented the hamburger and how did it become America's national cuisine? From a bustling barbecue stand in San Bernardino to Ray Kroc's location-scouting airplane rides, and from the McNugget to the McJob, this episode we figure out how McDonald's became so ubiquitous, and what that means for America.

Episode Notes

Marcia Chatelain and Franchise

Marcia Chatelain is associate professor of history and African-American studies at Georgetown University, and author of the new book, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America.

Adam Chandler and Drive-Thru Dreams

Adam Chandler is a journalist based in New York, and author of Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America's Fast-Food Kingdom.


Click here for a transcript of the show. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors


In the episode, Cynthia says that White Castle was the first to open and franchise fast-food restaurants. This is incorrect: White Castle was the first to open and build a chain of restaurants, but it didn't franchise. We apologize for the mistake!