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McDonald’s started its drive-thru service thanks to the military

McDonald’s is likely the world’s most popular restaurant. With more than 41,800 locations spread across 100-plus countries, the glow of its golden arches attracts hungry diners around the world. However, in one southern Arizona city, that wasn’t always the case. It took installing a special sliding window to bring in tons of patrons, particularly those wearing military uniforms. That’s right: The first drive-thru window at McDonald’s was created in 1975 to serve the armed forces. 

Sierra Vista, Arizona, sits about 20 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, and is home to the Fort Huachuca Army base. While military bases are often good for boosting local businesses, management of the town’s McDonald’s realized that service members often passed by the restaurant without stopping. It wasn’t from lack of hunger; uniform regulations of the time prevented personnel from going into public places on personal business while wearing their uniforms. Soldiers interested in stopping for a burger and fries had to return home and change into civilian clothes before they could place an order.

Knowing this, franchise owner David Rich thought up a way his military customers could skirt the rules. Taking inspiration from other restaurants like In-N-Out Burger and Jack in the Box — which were already using drive-thrus — he added a sliding window to the side of his building where customers could order and receive their food without leaving their cars. Rich’s drive-thru — the first in McDonald’s history — caught on with the restaurant chain. Later that year, a second McDonald’s in Georgia added its own drive-thru, followed by another in Oklahoma City, and by 1979, more than half of McDonald’s 5,000 locations featured drive-thrus. Today, nearly 70% of McDonald’s sales come through its drive-thrus, which are visited by service members and civilians alike.

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