McDonald’s first drive-thru was for the military

Fast food franchises have made windows and driving a part of their business plan as much as burgers, fries, and shakes. Businesses like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and dozens of others use speakers and sliding partitions to keep customers powered on the go.

But in the case of McDonald’s, the very first drive-thru wasn’t really aimed at civilians. It was for to resolve a logistical problem involving the military.

According to, the company launched its first car-friendly window on January 24, 1975 in Sierra Vista, Arizona. While some smaller food chains had embraced the strategy, the Golden Arches viewed take-out and on-site dining as its primary role models.

That changed when Sierra Vista franchisee David Rich realized his location was losing a lot of business due to military policy. His McDonald’s was located two miles from Fort Huachuca, but members of the armed forces were unable to grab a burger. At the time, base protocol required that enlisted personnel should never appear in uniform in public.

Rich’s solution was simple. He extended a wall, inserted a window, and stationed an employee nearby to handle orders for cars that pulled up to the side of the building. This way, officers could get food while staying in their vehicle and without breaking the rules. The base station commander and his daughter were the first drive-thru customers.

It’s worth noting that while Rich was the first to implement the window, he wasn’t the first McDonald’s operator to think about it. In 1974, a location in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, got the company’s approval to design and build an elaborate drive-through with statues of figures, but it only opened in April 1975, a few months after Rich’s window.

By the late 1970s, more than half of the company’s 5,000 locations had drive-thru services. Today, it’s almost impossible to find a McDonald’s without it, unless it’s in a congested urban area.

As for the pioneer location of Sierra Vista: it was demolished in 1999 and rebuilt into a new McDonald’s. Pieces of the original property have been auctioned and the original passage partition is now lit display at the Ethel H. Berger Center in town.


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