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Cool Things - McDonald's Sign

Neon "Speedee" McDonald's sign

Before the Golden Arches, there was just a single arch and Speedee.  Today this early McDonald's sign greets visitors to the Kansas Museum of History.

The restaurant baby boomers can't seem to live without dates from the mid-20th century when brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald opened their first drive-in in San Bernardino, California. During the fall of 1952, they began selling franchises for the "McDonald's self-service system," a method of operation started by them four years earlier. The system replaced carhops by having the customers come to a window to order their food.

Speedee

This neon sign is from the first McDonald's in Topeka (only the second in the entire state of Kansas), opened in 1961 at 3117 South Topeka Boulevard. Operated by Frank and Evelyn Lacy, the business was housed in a red and white tile building. Its original sign featured "Speedee," a mascot predating today's familiar clown, Ronald McDonald.

The sign outside the Lacy's restaurant had a single yellow arch—not yet referred to as the "golden arches"—usually described as a "rainbow shaped arch illuminated in neon." When this sign was first installed at the Lacy restaurant, it proclaimed "One Million Hamburgers Served." The section of the sign reading "Topeka's Family Favorite" was added later. This part of the sign originally proclaimed the price of a hamburger in 1961, just 15 cents.

McDonald's hat featuring Speedee

Speedee, the little chef with a round hamburger face striding across the sign, greeted customers at McDonald's all over the U.S. from 1953 to 1962. Although this sign remained at the Topeka restaurant until 1981, by then Speedee had been discarded as the official mascot of the McDonald's Corporation. In 1962 the agency opted for a new look, a pair of golden arches that could also be read as an "M." It has also been suggested that the business wanted to avoid a connection to another advertising character with a similar name—Speedy Alka-Seltzer—associated with indigestion. Speedy Alka-Seltzer was only a year older than the McDonald's Speedee, though, and the two had managed to co-exist for nine years.

The paper hat worn by employees of the Topeka McDonald's around 1965 also depicted Speedee.

In the early 1980s Jim and Bonnie Garrett, then the owners of the Topeka Boulevard McDonald's, decided to build a new restaurant at the site. The original sign was replaced and donated to the Kansas Historical Society. Today the top part of the sign (featuring Speedee and the arch) is on display in the main gallery of the Society's Kansas Museum of History.

Entry: Cool Things - McDonald's Sign

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: October 2001

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.