Read on for a trip down a burger-fueled memory lane, or to simply get an idea as to how much fast-food menus have changed in the past 50 years. We’ve ranked them in order of which menus have changed the most over time.
9) White Castle
A trip to White Castle these days generally means a sack of mini burgers, some fries, and a soda. While the menu now includes chicken and fish sliders, mozzarella sticks and onion rings, things havent changed too much over the years at the chain that started it all in 1921 in Wichita, Kan. This menu, from 1952, reveals that the mini hamburgers and cheeseburgers were only $0.05 and $0.06 respectively, back then cookies were on the menu, and one play on the jukebox cost $0.05. Nowadays, burgers and cheeseburgers cost $0.83 and $1.02, respectively.
Credit: White Castle, Flickr/LarimdaME
8) Kentucky Fried Chicken
"Colonel" Harland Sanders perfected his Original Recipe of 11 herbs and spices in 1940, and by the early 1960s the buckets full of fried chicken we know and love today were commonplace on the chains menus. On this menu we can see that buckets of increasing size and variety were available back then, with sides including potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni salad, fries, mashed potatoes, gravy, and rolls. And even though the fried shrimp dinner has gone the way of the dodo (along with the chicken gizzards and livers), and new additions like chicken sandwiches and pot pies now grace the menu, not too much has changed in the intervening years. And while the nine-piece bucket, which sold back then for $2.25, no longer exists, its closest relative, the eight-piece bucket, now sells for $12.49 on average.
While not much has been removed from the Dairy Queen menu in the past 50 years, it has seen more additions than probably any chain. However, just about all the classics from this 1960s era menu, including the sundaes, D.Q. Sandwiches, Dilly Bars, and banana splits are still for sale at every Dairy Queen if you ask for them. And while savory additions like burgers, hot dogs, salads, and even quesadillas all grace DQ menus today, it’ll never shed its original reputation as a great place for a sweet treat.
Credit: Dairy Queen
6) Dunkin' Donuts
Another key example of a sweet destination gone savory, Dunkin’ Donuts got its start in 1950 in Quincy, Mass., selling — what else? — donuts. Those rings of fried goodness are still a major draw nationwide (for much of the country a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts is still the only option when a craving strikes), and certainly no elementary school birthday party is complete without a box of Munchkins, but those who stop at Dunkin’ on a daily basis tend to do so for the coffee. Another one of its original offerings (founder William Rosenberg bought higher-quality coffee beans than the competition and sold them for a then-pricey $0.10 per cup), coffee options have expanded to include flavored and iced options, as well as the slushy Coolatta. And even though a whole roster of savory items including bagels and breakfast sandwiches now grace the menu, "great tasting coffee continues to be the brand's number one priority," according to this press release. A small cup of black coffee sells today for $1.52.
Credit: Dunkin' Donuts
The first outpost of A&W was opened in 1919, and by 1960 there were an astonishing 2,000-plus locations of the chain nationwide (and in Canada). As evidenced by this menu from that time period from an outpost in Clarkston, Wash., the offerings back then were quite eclectic. You could pick up a burger or hot dog, of course, but sandwiches including barbecue beef and fried ham were available, as well as a burrito. You could also get pork chops, "finger steak," and a burger called the Awful Awful! Nowadays there are a few holdovers from the '60s-era menu, namely the Papa Burger (once accompanied by a Mama, Teen, and Baby Burger), chili dog, and (obviously) root beer, but other than that not much is the same. While the double-decker Papa Burger sold for $0.65 back in the day, an outpost in Kentucky now sells it for $4.57.
Credit: flickr/ artgoeshere
4) Burger King
Burger King traces its roots back to 1954 Miami, and by the time that this menu was published in 1959 it had expanded to about 30 stores. The menu took a rather lighthearted approach, and surprisingly, the Whopper was already on the menu and being advertised by then (an even larger option, the Jaw-Breaker, was offered for $0.75, and has since been obviously discontinued). The standard assortment of hot dogs, fries, and onion rings were also included, along with a couple of surprises including a barbecue beef and steak sandwich. In 1959 a Whopper sold for $0.40 and today it’ll cost you a flat $5.
This popular chain got its start in 1951 with one of the simplest fast-food menus imaginable. With barely more than 10 items, the focus was quite obviously on simplicity. The inclusion of tacos, however, was an indication of things to come. The Bonus Burger was added in the early 1970s in response to McDonald’s Big Mac, and over the years the menu grew to include a wide range of burgers, sandwiches, and desserts (the tacos have stuck around, and the Bonus Burger came back in 2010 after being gone for decades). The Bonus Burger, which originally sold for $0.37, now costs $3.23 in San Diego, Calif.
The classic McDonald’s menu is just that: classic. Its small menu of burgers, fries, shakes, and beverages remains the iconic fast-food menu, the basis on which all competitors drew their inspiration. Over the years, however, the menu expanded in legendary ways. The Big Mac was rolled out nationwide in 1968, the Happy Meal made its debut in 1979, and the Chicken McNugget followed in 1983. Since then, plenty of other options have joined the originals, including a wide variety of burgers, chicken sandwiches, snacks, salads, breakfast items, and, of course, a McRib. The original offerings, however, are still there, and haven’t changed much since their inception more than 50 years ago. The classic $0.15 hamburger now costs a very reasonable $1.62; $0.19 cheeseburgers now cost $1.65 (shockingly, the price difference between the two items has actually decreased over the years!)
Credit: flickr/ sbove, McDonald's
1) Nathan's Famous
No fast-food chain has changed so much over the years as Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs. It got its start in 1916 as a simple hot dog stand in Coney Island, and by the time it expanded out to Long Island in 1959, the menu included a mind-rattling assortment of items: pizza, corn on the cob, lobster and shrimp rolls, clams both on the half-shell and fried, burgers, soups, chow mein on a bun, and even frog’s legs. In the years that followed, as it enjoyed a national expansion, the menu evened out a bit, and while some of the more exotic offerings (like seafood including soft-shell crab) is still available at the original Coney Island location, the menu you’ll find today tends to stick to hot dogs, chicken, fries, and cheesesteaks. Back in 1916 a plain hot dog cost $0.05; today it’ll run you a whopping $3.42.
Credit: flickr/ wallyg
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It seems like all of our childhoods are tied together by one common denominator: a love of fast food. There's something about a trip to McDonald's that appeals to the kid in us, and the smell of a McDonald's alone oftentimes brings back childhood memories of trips to the fast-food chain. But if there's been one constant over the years, it's the fact that things constantly change, and fast-food menus are no exception.
We dug deep into the Internet's version of memory lane and were able to track down classic menus from beloved fast-food chains, most dating back around 50 years, to the late 1950s and early 1960s. What we found was ultimately quaint and nostalgia-inducing, reminding us not only of how much things have changed since then, but how much larger portions have grown as well.
Back during the era of Beatlemania, the Big Mac didn't yet exist, nor did the Happy Meal. The centerpiece of the McDonald's menu was the simple "pure beef hamburger," still a classic but no longer really considered a meal unto itself. And there was a time not too long ago when (believe it or not) Dairy Queen only sold ice cream.
While some menus were limited by design (see White Castle, for example), others have been whittled down in interesting ways over the years. KFC once sold chicken livers and gizzards, for example. And A&W, a vintage fast-food chain if ever there was one, stopped selling pork chops and "Peteza" burgers quite some time ago.
All of these menus (except for the one from Dairy Queen) also include prices. While prices nowadays vary according to region, we got in touch with stores in New York City (unless otherwise noted) to find out what items that remain from the old menus are currently selling for. As always, there were several surprises: Who knew that a plain Nathan's hot dog, which once sold for just $0.05, now costs $3.42!
Also, if you're wondering why a chain as large as Wendy's isn't on the list, that's because we tried to track down menus from circa 1960, and Wendy's wasn't around until almost 10 years later (Dave Thomas founded the chain in 1969).
So read on for a trip down a burger-fueled memory lane, or to simply get an idea as to how much fast-food menus have changed in the past 50 years. We've ranked them in order of which menus have changed the most over time.
Ready to blast back through fast food time? Check out the slideshow above!