Amusement Parks, Disney, food, Pop Culture, Travel

Disney Eats McDonald’s. PART I

Disney and Ray Kroc Part I
Ray Kroc & Walt Disney-World War I Ambulance Corps.

Original publish date:  January 16, 2020

There has been a lot of hubbub going around lately about the latest Star Wars movie “The Rise of Skywalker” from Walt Disney studios and the new Star Wars themed lands in Disneyland and Disneyworld’s Hollywood Studios known as “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.” Disney purchased Star Wars parent company, Lucasfilms, for $4.05 billion in cash and stock on Oct. 30, 2012 and recouped their investment in just a few short years. The four Disney Star Wars movies alone grossed more than $4.8 billion at the box office. That figure doesn’t even count any monies generated by the franchise in merchandising or at the theme parks, which opened in 2019.
What would you think if I were to tell you that the Disney / Star Wars merger was not the first “big idea” to land on the house of the mouse doorstep? There was another big idea that was nearly floated out of Anaheim over fifty years ago. And this one came from “Uncle Walt” himself. Well, to paraphrase Winnie the Pooh, Walt Disney’s rumbly tummy anyway. Believe it or not, there was a time when Disneyland and McDonald’s nearly partnered up.

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Disney Star Wars.

This was not a proposal made by a couple of opportunistic bandwagon jumpers, there was history behind this love affair. Walt Disney and Ray Kroc first met in a Connecticut Army camp in 1918 while both were teenaged dreamers known only to their families. Both men were born near Chicago, Illinois less than a year apart. Walter Elias Disney in Chicago’s Hermosa neighborhood on December 5, 1901 and Ray Albert Kroc in Oak Park, Illinois, on October 5, 1902.
In mid-1918, Walt Disney dropped out of high school at 16 and attempted to join the United States Army to fight against the Huns, but he was rejected because he was too young. Undeterred, Disney forged the date on his birth certificate and joined the Red Cross in September 1918 as an ambulance driver. Ironically, Walt began his ambulance corps training at a burned down amusement park near the University of Chicago where he was taught by mechanics from the Yellow Cab Company how to repair motors and drive cars over rough terrain.
Likewise, Ray Kroc dropped out of school, lied about his age and joined the Red Cross as an ambulance driver at the age of 15. Disney was shipped to France, arriving in November, after the armistice. The only action Disney participated in was drawing cartoons on the side of ambulances. As for Kroc, the war ended shortly after he enlisted. In his 1977 autobiography “Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s”, Ray Kroc said this about his old war buddy, “In my company, which assembled in Connecticut for training, was another fellow who had lied about his age to get in. He was regarded as a strange duck, because whenever we had time off and went out on the town to chase girls, he stayed in camp drawing pictures. His name was Walt Disney.”

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Ray Kroc: Soldier.

While training to be a driver in Ambulance Company A, Disney and Kroc became friends. Ironically, at the same time, a couple of young idealistic writers, also from Chicago, were serving in the ambulance corps; Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos. These four men shared not only an occupation but a desire to revolutionize American writing, entertainment and pop culture. However, this article ain’t that deep and talking about Hemingway and Dos Passos is above my pay grade. This article is about pop culture at it’s finest.
After Ray and Walt returned to the US, independently, they both headed out to Southern California seeking fame and fortune. Disney as an animator, even though the cartoon industry was headquartered in New York City, and Kroc as a businessman, even though California was still a relative unknown in the business world. Disney struggled for a time but finally caught on in 1928 with a cartoon about a mouse called “Steamboat Willie”—the first cartoon with synchronized sound. For Kroc, it would take a little bit longer for his ship to come in: 26 years to be specific.

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Walt Disney: Soldier.

Disney’s story is well known, but Kroc’s story might be worth a revisit. Kroc was working as a traveling salesman for the Mixmaster Corporation when he met two brothers who were tearing it up in San Bernardino. Richard and Maurice “Mac” McDonald, who curiously shared the same middle name (James), developed a restaurant using what they called the “Speedee Service System.” The new restaurant proved a rousing success, especially with teenagers, and the brothers were soon making $40,000 a year, big money back then.

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The McDonald’s Brothers.

By 1953, the brothers had set their sights on franchising with a goal of making $1 million before they turned 50. Their first step was to buy eight shiny new milkshakes machines. Curious why one business would need eight machines, Ray visited the McDonalds’, took one glance at the brothers’ method of cooking hamburgers “assembly-line-style” to get the food out to the customers more quickly and he immediately saw dollar signs. In 1954, the McDonald brothers partnered with Ray Kroc. Around this same time (April 1954) Walt Disney unveiled his plans for a bold new concept in family fun parks he planned to call Disneyland.

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Walt Disney & Mickey Mouse-Opening Day at Disneyland July 17, 1955.

As soon as Ray Kroc heard the news about this new mega-fun park, he knew that hungry teenagers would flock to it by the carload. Kroc knew that he’d finally found the perfect place to build his first McDonald’s franchise. In late 1954, Ray sent a letter to his old ambulance corps buddy, it read, in part, “Dear Walt…I look over the Company A picture we had taken in Sound Beach, Conn. many times and recall a lot of pleasant memories.” Then Kroc cut to the chase, “I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disneyland Development.”
Walt responded cordially to the former Red Cross ambulance driver’s note by saying that he would be handing the proposal over to the Disneyland executive in charge of concessions. Walt explained that he was “currently confining his activities to the creative side” while the Disney Company “raced to complete the theme park on time.” The Disney Archives has a copy of Kroc’s letter and Walt’s response. Kroc claimed he never received a response from the vice president in charge of concessions.
z AuntJemimasPancakeHouse2From there, well, nobody knows. For the answer, you need look no further than the fact that there are no McDonald’s at Disney. It should be noted that there were SOME franchise restaurants in Disneyland during those first first years. They included the Aunt Jemima pancake and waffle house in Frontierland and the Chicken of the Sea Pirate Ship in Fantasyland.
z chickenoftheseaTo his dying day, Ray Kroc insisted that the reason the “world’s first McDonald’s” was not featured inside Disneyland at the park’s July 17, 1955 grand opening was because the head of concessions had tried to force Ray to raise the price of his french fries by a nickle (from 10 cents to 15 cents) for the Disneyland crowd. Kroc, the man in charge of McDonald’s franchising, believed that he was being charged a franchise fee by virtue of Walt Disney Productions tacking on a concessionaire’s fee. Kroc, the consummate businessman, said he wasn’t about to give away 1/3 of his profits while gouging his customers. Great story, but by the time Disneyland debuted, Kroc had only opened one McDonald’s franchise (in Des Plaines, Illinois on April 15, 1955). So he had no loyal customers to offend…yet. Well, no customers within 2,000 miles anyway.
z McD des plainesIt is more likely to say that while the executives in charge of Disneyland’s concessions were undoubtedly intrigued by Ray’s “fast food” proposal, “war buddy” or not, Kroc just didn’t have enough experience in the restaurant business to take that gamble. So, despite how Kroc spun the tale to reporters from the 1950s forward, while there was some discussion of putting a McDonald’s inside the theme park, the project never really made it past the talking stage. But Ray Kroc would never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.
Ray Kroc eventually bought the brothers out in 1961, a year after Walt Disney received TWO stars on the Hollywood walk of fame: one for movies, the other for television. All business partnership questions aside, the parallels between the two men continued. Both men were vehement conservative Republicans. Disney famously wore a Barry Goldwater for President pin to the White House in 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the Presidential medal of Freedom to the animator. Kroc donated $255,000 to Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign in 1972, and was accused by some, including N.J. Senator Harrison Williams, of trying to influence Nixon to veto a minimum wage bill making its way through Congress (which was a $ 1.60 per hour by the way).
Both men were brilliant businessmen. Both were always looking to the future. Both would be categorized as “control freaks” today. And both men were among the first to market their product specifically to children. But there was one major difference. While Kroc had a legendary temper and was famous for holding a grudge, Disney retained a childlike innocence and truly enjoyed people. While it is true that the Golden Arches never made it onto Main Street USA, they still found a place in Walt Disney’s heart. Or maybe it is more accurate to say, his stomach.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Walt Disney , the ultimate imagineer, was one of the first businessmen in America to utilize a personal airplane for business and travel. Actually, he had three. Although Walt never got a pilot’s license, he frequently sat in the co-pilot’s seat. Lillian Disney disapproved strongly of her husband’s desire to fly. Once, after Walt announced from the cockpit: “This is your captain speaking”, Lillian jumped from her seat and stormed towards the cabin. Walt quickly backed off by saying: “No, not the captain. This is the commander in chief of the whole damned outfit!”
Walt’s first plane was an eight­ passenger Beechcraft Queen Air Model 80, which Walt bought in February of 1963 and used until 1965. The twin engine turboprop, nicknamed “The Queen” by Disney, had a top speed of 247 mph, a list price of $135,000 and a large circular logo of the “Mickey Mouse Club” near the nose. Legend states that it was this plane that Walt used to fly over central Florida to pick the spot for his Disney World complex nine months after purchase.

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Walt’s Grumman Gulfstream G-159 Tail Number N732G.

In March of 1964, the small cabin of the Queen Air necessitated an upgrade to a used Grumman Gulfstream G-159 one, tail number N732G. This new tan and brown plane was a significant upgrade with a cruising speed of 350 mph at 30,000 feet. It was a smooth ride to the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, while Walt was busy working on his “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” and “It’s a Small World” projects. At one time it was the most highly utilized Gulfstream I in the country.
In July of 1965, Walt purchased a Beechcraft King Air Model 90, which he used from 1965­ to 1967. The Beechcraft could carry 10 passengers, including a flight crew of two. It was powered by a pair of Pratt and Whitney PT-6 Turboprop engines, capable of cruising at 270 mph at 23,000 feet. Fully equipped, its list price was $320,000. Perhaps most importantly, this new plane carried the tail number N234MM. The King Air was fast and quiet, but the Gulfstream could get in and out of smaller airports much easier. So by 1967, the Gulfstream eventually ended up with the N234MM tail number and the forever designation as “Walt’s Plane”.

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Walt’s Beechcraft King Air Model 90-Tail number N234MM.

Disney pilots originally used “two-three-four-Metro-Metro” as their radio call sign but it soon morphed into “two-three-four-Mickey-Mouse” which was not a standard ICAO Aircraft call. Soon the FAA enroute controllers were also calling it “Mickey Mouse.” According to friends, Walt took delight in every aspect of flying. He loaded the luggage, served the drinks and supervised the galley. Even those with a passing knowledge of McDonald’s Ray Kroc’s personality realize it would find it hard to imagine the Golden Arches CEO doing any of that. z Gulfstream_WDA_BA_Altimeter
Walt’s “problem” was that he always liked to fly as low as possible, to study the landscape. Perhaps by decree of Lillian (or the insurance company) Walt ended up with his own personal seat in the back equipped with an altimeter and air speed indicator on the wall and a telephone direct to the pilot. During the 1960s, as Walt Disney was flying around the country overseeing World’s Fair attractions, selecting movie sets, participating in lawn bowling events (yes, he was a world class lawn-bowler) and planning more self-titled mega-theme parks, he would often land his plane to search for… a McDonald’s hamburger.

NEXT WEEK: Part II of Disney East McDonald’s

Creepy history, Ghosts, Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours, Pop Culture

The first Irvington Halloween Festival and the law.

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Original 1946 Irvington Halloween Festival Ticket.

Original publish date:  October 16 2011

Next week, once again, Irvington will celebrate “All Hallows Eve” better than anyplace else in the Hoosier state by hosting the 65th annual Halloween Festival. Trick-or-treating, window painting, house decorating, and a costume parade down the middle of Washington Street are all cherished traditions eagerly anticipated by the participants involved. But what about that first Halloween festival back in 1946? What was that like? And most importantly, were Irvingtonians breaking the law by hosting it?
Disney Trick or treatWe’ve all heard the stories, legends and rumors surrounding that now legendary first event. It was sponsored by the Walt Disney company featuring costumed characters with a Disney based theme. The Disney folks gave away potentially priceless hand painted film production cels right here on the streets of old Irvington town. Walt Disney himself was seen walking down Audubon with Mickey Mouse at his side. It’s hard to separate fact from fiction nowadays.
However, a good place to start would be the history books. What was going on in the world back in October of 1946? Mensa was founded in Great Britain and the United Nations held its first meeting on Long Island. World War II ended a year before, yet the Nuremberg War trials concluded with the execution of ten German war criminals just two weeks before the festival. Among the adolescent ghosts and goblins wandering the streets of Irvington 65 years ago was a spectral leftover from the second world war looming menacingly over the costumed treat seekers. The specter of Sugar rationing. Really? Sugar rationing on Halloween?
When the empire of Japan conquered the Philippine Islands in the early months of 1942 the United States lost a major source of it’s national sugar imports. Sugar shipments from Hawaii had already been curtailed by fifty percent when cargo vessels typically used for transporting sugar from the islands to the mainland were diverted for use by the military. Seemingly overnight, U.S. sugar supply fell by more than one-third. To ensure adequate supplies for manufacturers, the military, and civilians, sugar became the first food item to be rationed during the war. Manufacturers’ supplies were reduced to 80 percent of pre-war levels and that percentage was further reduced over time.
On April 27, 1942, Irvington families registered for ration books at the local elementary schools. One book was issued for each family member. To prove they were serious about wartime rationing, the US Government required that these books were to be surrendered upon death of the recipient. In a drastic move that harkens back to FDR’s closure of the banks and financial institutions during the Great Depression, the sale of sugar was halted for one week to prepare for the program. During that sugarless week, to discourage hoarding, each family was required to report how much sugar they had on hand and a corresponding number of stamps were removed from the ration book.
z WWII OPA Rationing BookletA week later on May 5, 1942, every United States citizen received their much anticipated “War Ration Book Number One”, good for a 56-week supply of sugar. Initially, each stamp was good for one pound of sugar and could be redeemed over a specified two-week period. Later on, as other items such as coffee and shoes were rationed, each stamp became good for two pounds of sugar over a four-week period. The ration book bore the recipient’s name and could only be used by household members. Stamps had to be torn off in the presence of the grocer. If the book was lost, stolen, or destroyed, an application had to be submitted to the Ration Board for a new copy. If the ration book holder entered the hospital for greater than a 10-day stay, the ration book had to be brought along with them. Talk about your red tape!

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World War II War Sugar Ration Stamp.

Housewives learned to be creative, using saccharine, corn syrup, and even packets of Jell-O as sugar substitutes. Sugar beets became a staple of nearly every American dinner table. Women’s magazines featured recipes with reduced sugar or creative ingredient substitutes. “Victory Gardens” sprung up all over the cities and home canning was strongly encouraged during the war. However, canning requires sugar and to provide for this patriotic need, each person could apply for a one time only 25-pound allotment of lower grade canning sugar each year. Each local war ration board determined the quantity and season of availability based on the local harvest. A special canning sugar stamp was issued and included in the ration book. This special “spare canning sugar stamp 37” had to be attached to the government application. Problem was, that they looked exactly like the household sugar stamp and confusion reigned as many people mistakenly used the regular sugar stamp 37 in it’s place, invalidating it for normal household purchases. Did I mention the red tape?
z photo-1127-2013-conserve-sugar-posterTo make matters worse, just because you had a sugar stamp didn’t mean sugar was available for purchase. Shortages occurred often throughout the war, and in early 1945 sugar became nearly impossible to find in any quantity. As Europe was liberated from the grip of Nazi Germany, the United States took on the main responsibility for providing food to those war ravaged countries. On May 1, 1945, the sugar ration for American families was slashed to 15 pounds per year for household use and 15 pounds per year for canning – roughly eight ounces per week per household. Sugar supplies remained scarce and, just as sugar had the distinction of being the first product rationed at the start of the war, sugar was the last product to be rationed after the war. Sugar rationing continued until June of 1947, over six months after the first Irvington Halloween festival in October of 1946.
So, knowing this, can it be said that every sugary sweet handed out to euphoric trick-or-treaters in Irvington during that first festival was a violation of Federal law? Technically yes, but in reality, it might best be compared to ripping the tag off of your mattress today. Never fear, Irvington is not Australia and you are not descended from a colony of law breakers and felons. By the time of that first Irvington Halloween Festival, war time rationing was on the wane and most Americans were eager to celebrate after a long, hard fought war, too enraptured with the outcome, and their personal survival, to care much about wartime shortages. As evidence, one need look no further than the baby boomer generation, a direct bi-product of that euphoria.
z Halloween Festival (2)An argument can be made that it was events like the First Irvington Halloween Festival that kicked off the tradition of trick-or-treating as we know it today. Although the Halloween holiday was certainly well known in America before that first Irvington celebration, it was predominantly a holiday for adult costume parties and a chance to cut loose with friends playing party games while consuming hard cider. Early national attention to trick-or-treating in popular culture really began a year later in October of 1947. That’s when the custom of passing out the playful “candy bribes” began to appear in issues of children’s magazines like Jack and Jill and Children’s Activities, and in Halloween episodes of network radio programs like The Baby Snooks Show, The Jack Benny Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Trick-or-treating was first depicted in a Peanuts comic strip in 1951, perhaps the image most identified with the children’s holiday in the hearts and minds of baby boomers today. The custom had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney debuted his Donald Duck movie “Trick or Treat”, and again when Ozzie and Harriet were besieged by trick-or-treaters on an episode of their popular television show. In 1953, less than a decade after that first festival in Irvington, the tradition of Halloween as a children’s holiday was fully accepted when UNICEF conducted it’s first national children’s charity fund raising campaign centered around trick-or-treaters.
z s-l640Most of this column’s readers are aware that part of my passion for history revolves around collecting, cataloging, displaying and observing antiques and collectibles. There exists in the collecting world a strong group of enthusiasts devoted to the pursuit and preservation of Halloween memorabilia of all types. Costumes, decorations, photographs, publications and postcards in particular. The origins of Halloween as we now know it might best be traced in the postcards issued to celebrate the tradition. The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s commonly show costumed children, but do not depict trick-or-treating. It is believed that the pranks associated with early Halloween were perpetrated by unattended children left to their own devices while their parents caroused and partied without them. Some have characterized Halloween trick-or-treating as an adult invention to curtail vandalism previously associated with the holiday. Halloween was not widely accepted and many adults, as reported in newspapers from the 1930s and 1940s, typically saw it as a form of extortion, with reactions ranging from bemused indulgence to anger. Sometimes, even the children protested. As late as Halloween of 1948, members of the Madison Square Boys Club in New York City carried a parade banner that read “American Boys Don’t Beg.” Times have certainly changed since that first Halloween festival 65 years ago.
z 58bdce96102ac.imageA 2005 study by the National Confectioners Association reported that 80 percent of American households gave out candy to trick-or-treaters, and that 93 percent of children, teenagers, and young adults planned to either venture out trick-or-treating or to participate in other Halloween associated activities. In 2008, Halloween candy, costumes and other related products accounted for $5.77 billion in revenue. An estimated $2 billion worth of candy will be passed out during this Halloween season and one study claims that “an average Jack-O-Lantern bucket carries about 250 pieces of candy amounting to about 9,000 calories and containing three pounds of sugar.” Yes, 65-years ago, Halloween looked quite different than it does today. Next week, doorbells all over Irvington will ring, doors will be opened and wide-eyed gaggles of eager children will unanimously cry out “Trick-or-Treat” from Oak Avenue to Pleasant Run Parkway.
z halloween festivalCostumed kids will be rewarded for their efforts with all sorts of tribute in the form of coins, nuts, popcorn balls, fruit, cookies, cakes, and toys. As a casual observer born long after that first Irvington Halloween Festival and an active participant in the festivities that will begin next week, I’m glad that our Irvington forefathers skirted government regulations all those years ago. In fact, as a fan of all things Irvington, I’d go so far as to say that this community has played a big part in the Halloween holiday as we know it today. Because, grammar notwithstanding, nobody does Halloween like Irvington do.