McDonald's Corporation founder, CEO, and Chairman Ray Kroc started a fast food revolution on April 15, 1955 when he opened his first McDonald's Restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois. Today, fifty-one years later, McDonald's Corporation is headquartered in Oak Brook, Illinois and is the world's most successful fast food retailer. In 2006, there are more than 30,000 local McDonald's restaurants in 120 countries with assets of $40 billion and annual revenues of $20 billion.
heRay Kroc was born on Oct. 5, 1902 in Oak Park, Illinois. Oak Park is also the hometown of novelist Ernest Hemmingway and TV comedy show star Bob Newhart. Kroc, of Czech heritage, took piano lessons from his mother, a popular music teacher in Oak Park. He would later use that skill to work as a jazz pianist in his twenties. Ray caught the business bug after graduation from eighth grade when he got a summer job working in a soda fountain owned by his uncle, Earl Sweet. The summer after his freshman year in high school, Ray joined two friends in renting a building to sell sheet music but that business failed after only a few months. Dropping out of school, Ray lied about his age in 1917 to volunteer for training as a Red Cross ambulance driver during World War I. He was sent to Connecticut for training but he never reached Europe before the Armistice in November 1918. He spent the next four years exploring the country, selling real estate, and playing jazz piano. By 1922 at age 20, the father of his fiance insisted he had to get a steady job so he started working for the Lily Tulip Paper Cup company and learning the profession of salesman. Ray stayed with the company for the next seventeen years.
During the 1940s, Ray was the exclusive distributor for Multimixers that could mix up to five milkshakes at a time. He took notice when his customers Richard and Maurice (Mac) McDonald of San Bernardino, California ordered eight of his machines. After a visit to the McDonald brothers and their restaurant in San Bernardino in 1954, Ray liked their assembly line process for hamburgers and proposed a partnership with them to start a chain of drive-in hamburger restaurants. He bought out the McDonald brothers in 1961 when the company had about 228 restaurants and the rest of the McDonald's success story is well known. Ray Kroc had homes in other states but he lived and worked most of his professional life in Illinois and brought many new jobs to the state. Ray and his wife also owned the San Diego Padres baseball team later in his life. He died at age 82 in 1984. McDonald's Corporation for about the last 35 years has located its international headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois in Du Page County and the campus of Hamburger University is also nearby. McDonald's remains today one of the most famous and successful Illinois-based corporations and a brand name known worldwide.