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Fast Food

Coinciding with the emergence of the family restaurant after WWI was the fast food stand. These eateries began, literally, as small stands along the roadside at which motorists could stop for a quick bite. Designs for food stands ranged from quaint cottages to bizarre shapes that were meant to either reflect the product sold within or just to lure motorists off the road. For example, an ice cream stand might take on the shape of an ice cream cone. The burger stand in the image below was built in the shape of a lunch pail, and its small size is indicative of the modest nature of these early food stands.

Lunch Pail Designed Burger Stand

Lunch Pail Designed Burger Stand: Image courtesy of Chester H. Liebs, Main Street to Miracle Mile, 1995

In 1921, the first major fast food chain was established. White Castle, which still exists today, combined inexpensive, quality food with a memorable architectural motif. Food was prepared to high standards that were met at all their franchises. And their architecture, a white castle, reflected their name. Tourists could easily recognize the name and know that they would receive a good, quality meal. With the emergence of McDonald's in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the fast food industry was truly borne. The two McDonald brothers perfected the lightening fast service, low cost, and standardized product that define the fast food industry. The four images below illustrate the evolution of the White Castle design.

Evolution of White Castle

Evolution of White Castle

Evolution of White Castle: Image courtesy of Chester H. Liebs

The drive-in restaurant also had its beginnings in the 1920, and it played a major role in the development of the fast food industry. The drive-in closely resembles the walk-up food stand, consisting of a rectangular, box-like stand with food service windows.

Drive-In Restaurant

Drive-In Restaurants: Image courtesy of Chester H. Liebs

Eventually, a distinctive design for the architecture of drive-in food stands was developed. The new stands featured rectangular or circular buildings topped by giant signs around which cars customers parked their cars.

Circular Drive-In Restaurant

Circular Drive-In Restaurant: Image courtesy of Chester H. Liebs

Rationing during WWII caused many food stands to shut down, but the post-war prosperity of the late 1940s and 1950s brought a major boom to the roadside eatery industry. Improvements to drive-in food stands after the war included car shelters that were either cantilevered roofs extending out from the main building or freestanding structures. Modern and Exaggerated Modern were the architectural styles of choice for the post-war roadside eatery, as seen in the 1950s McDonald's design seen below.

Exaggerated Modern McDonald's Design

Exaggerated Modern McDonald's Design: Image courtesy of Chester H. Liebs

By the early 1960s, litter, noise, drinking, and violence had tarnished the reputation of the drive-in food industry, and many closed during the 1970s.

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