The Burger King: Ray Kroc is Born

“The two most important requirements for major success,” said Ray Kroc, “are: first, being in the right place at the right time, and second, doing something about it.”

In 1954, that is exactly where Kroc found himself. After years of struggling through different trades, Kroc had finally stumbled upon what he saw as the next big thing in America. In one of the greatest success stories of our time, Kroc took a small but successful California-based hamburger restaurant and expanded it into what is today a worldwide chain with almost 500,000 employees, $20 billion in revenue, and a logo that has come to be more globally recognizable than the Christian cross.

Born on October 5, 1902, in Oak Park, Illinois, Ray Arthur Kroc never took to school. Instead, he enjoyed passing his class hours away in daydreams. “I was never much of a reader when I was a boy,” recalled Kroc. “Books bored me. I liked action. But I spent a lot of time thinking about things. I’d imagine all kinds of situations and how I would handle them.” Kroc eventually dropped out of high school.

When Kroc was just four years old, his father took him to a phrenologist to try to have his future determined based on the shape of his head. Here, the young Kroc was told that he would be best suited to having a career in the fast food industry. But, it would be some time before Kroc would fulfill this prediction. When he was 15 years old, Kroc lied about his age to the Red Cross in order to become an ambulance driver. It was World War I and Kroc wanted to get involved in the action and do his share. Kroc was sent to Connecticut for training but never saw action because the war had come to an end.

On the hunt for a job, Kroc soon discovered his entrepreneurial instincts. He quickly worked on improving the piano skills he had learned as a child and went to work as a piano player for a radio station at night. During the day, Kroc found employment as a salesman for the Lily Tulip Cup Co. While selling paper cups was not Kroc’s dream job, it would set him on a course that would forever change his destiny.

It was in the course of selling paper cups that Kroc would meet Earl Prince, an entrepreneur with a similar eye for exciting future business opportunities as Kroc. Kroc had noticed Prince after he began buying Lily cups by the truckload for a product that he had recently invented – a five-spindle multi-mixer. With the machine’s speed and efficiency, Kroc believed the possibilities were promising and he obtained exclusive marketing rights to the product. Over the next 17 years, Kroc would travel throughout the U.S. selling this mixer.

It was after one particular order that Kroc’s entrepreneurial instincts were once again peaked. Brothers Dick and Mac McDonald had ordered eight mixers for their San Bernardino, California-based restaurants. Interested in meeting the men who had ordered eight mixers, Kroc took a trip down to visit them in 1954. The McDonald brothers had focused on just a few menu items – hamburgers, cheeseburgers, French fries, soft drinks and milk shakes. Kroc was impressed with the efficiency of their establishment, but he thought it could be greater.

Kroc was ready for a career change. He was tired of selling mixers. In the McDonald’s restaurant, he saw his golden opportunity.

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