From his humblest beginnings clad in a paper cup nose to his modern day cargo pants and svelte haircut, Ronald McDonald has seen many changes over the last 50 years. Here's a look back at the history of one of America's most recognizable advertising icons.
Before There Was Ronald, There Was "Speedee"Road Arch
Long before there was Ronald McDonald and even before the "Golden Arches" ever appeared, Speedee was the McDonald's mascot. He was built to exemplify the "Speedee Service System" that the company built their fast food chain upon in the 1940s. The arches were added a few decades later, in 1962.
Here's Ronald! 1963imgur
Ronald McDonald first appeared in 1963, when television personality Willard Scott appeared in three separate TV commercials as the character "Ronald McDonald, the Hamburger-Happy Clown." Scott already had an extensive history of "clowning around," he had just finished a three year stint playing the popular Bozo the Clown on WRC-TV in Washington D.C. from 1959 until 1962.
Ronald McDonald In His (Scary?)Television DebutDaily Mail
The first commercials with McDonald's new mascot ran in the Washington D.C. market and featured Scott as a clown draped in a yellow jumpsuit and striped shirt. He had hamburgers that would magically reappear on the tray at his belt, and was wearing a McDonald's paper cup for a nose. On his head was another tray, that held a styrofoam burger, a small sack fries, and a milkshake.
Ronald McDonald Celebrates Christmas At The Holiday Inn, 1960sThe NY Daily Gazette
In spite of all of his professional clown experience, Scott was just not the "right fit" for McDonald's marketing executives. Indeed, they wanted a Ronald that was more fit, according to historians. The company's ad agency felt that Willard Scott was "too heavy to play the part of an 'extremely active' Ronald" and they cut him from the role.
1970s Ronald McDonald, After He Lost The 'Nose'Pinterest
Several different actors would go on to play Ronald McDonald on a national level in television commercials over the next few decades. As the 1960s came to an end, McDonald's changed the appearance of Ronald to resemble the more modern one that exists today, losing the creepy cup nose, tray belt, and hat.
Female Ronald McDonald, Dressed Up In The Store, 1970simgur
According to the McDonald's website, "From 1971 to 1998 Ronald's suit had french fry bags for pockets with two large ones around the lower body and an average sized french fry bag on the heart. The sleeve and leg stripes were thin, and the neck collar was long." Individual stores would have an employee dress up for birthday parties and other events, in a suit modeled after the contemporary style Ronald was wearing in the current television commercials.
Early 1970s Ronald McDonald, At A Ribbon CuttingAmes History.org
In 2014, for the first time, Ronald McDonald dropped his trademark jumpsuit for a trendier look: yellow cargo pants, a vest and a red-and-white striped rugby shirt. According to the McDonald's website, however, "His classic clown shoes remain part of the official uniform." This sporty look was intended to portray the more active lifestyle that McDonald's wanted its customers to embrace, in spite of the high caloric content of some of their menu items.
1980s Ronald McDonald, A Little Less Hair PoufChicago Business
According to the company, Ronald McDonald is more than a mascot, which is where the story becomes slightly complicated. In 2003, he was named "Chief Happiness Officer" of McDonald's. The company lists his interests on their website as "baseball and golf" and states that he is, logically, "as American as apple pie." Even stranger, McDonald's executives will not admit that it uses many different actors to play the clown. "There's only one Ronald," one employee mysteriously told the AP in 2011.
Ronald And His 'Gang,' Circa 1986Wikimedia Commons
From 1971 until the middle 2000s, Ronald was joined by newly created members of the McDonaldland gang, a crew of different fantasy characters. The group included Grimace, "a large, purple anthropomorphic being of indeterminate species with short arms and legs;" Hamburglar, a friendly hoarder of McDonald's hamburgers; and Birdie, "a yellow bird wearing a pink jumpsuit, flight cap and scarf."
Ronald McDonald, With A Big MacBusiness Insider
Here are a few interesting facts about Ronald McDonald:
His shoes are size 29 EEE.
He has his own Little Golden Book called "Ronald McDonald and the Tale of The Talking Plant."
He also has his own video games, VHS series, and comic books.
In Japan, Ronald McDonald is known as Donald McDonald because there is no "r" sound in Japanese.