Eating fast food unites almost all Americans and, increasingly, many millions more throughout the world. From fast food’s modest origins in the early decades of the 20th century to the huge industry it has become today, we can trace the history of the United States through the development of this popular American institution. With the ability to adapt to changing tastes and trends, to meet the public’s need for something to eat that’s generally inexpensive, quick and the same every time you order it, fast food has become a permanent part of American culture.
In his enlightening and fun-to-read Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America’s Fast-Food Kingdom, Adam Chandler explores the complex industry that sprang from fry cook Walt Anderson’s “invention” of the hamburger in Wichita, Kansas, in 1916. Anderson’s partnership with real estate developer Billy Ingram led to the establishment of White Castle restaurants, which continue to thrive today and even celebrate their most loyal fans in their Cravers Hall of Fame.
The founders of many fast-food companies came from modest backgrounds, but through sheer determination, hard work and good luck, they achieved success. Colonel Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken is the most representative of the American dream in this regard. Despite setbacks that would discourage most people, his secret recipe, colorful personality and keen marketing skills propelled him to succeed.
Ray Kroc was so impressed by the hamburger stand created by Dick and Mac McDonald in California that he bought it from them, and McDonald’s eventually became the greatest fast-food success story of all. Kroc, a former sales representative of paper cups and milkshake machines, was “exacting, fastidious, and cruel” and took pride in saying he made more millionaires than anyone else in the United States.
There is much more here about customer loyalty and fast-food restaurants as meeting places. Based on interviews and careful research, this is a book to savor, especially if you’re a fast-food fan.