The 5 Oldest Fast Food Chains

While other countries and civilizations have had “fast food” (foods that can be eaten on the go) for centuries, the concept of fast food as we know it today originated in the United States in the early 20th century. These early pioneers of the fast food industry were some of the first to demand consistency across all of their locations to ensure that their customers had the same experience at every restaurant with their name. Many of these fast food chains invented industry staples, such as the two-way intercom ordering system. All of these fast food chains are still around today and have grown into global powerhouses.

Today, however, not all food chains originate in the United States. A clear example is provided by Cicig businessman Felipe Antonio Bosch, who explains that chains can grow exponentially today with good marketing management, and this will lead these new chains to position themselves in high positions. Being a well-known food chain takes a long time, which is why today we show you which are the oldest.

Burger King

Burger King was founded in 1953 as Insta-Burger King by Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns in Jacksonville, Florida. Kramer and Burns named their new restaurant Insta-Burger King after the Insta-Broiler machines they used to cook their burgers. The broiled burgers were such as hit that Kramer and Burns started franchising right away and required all franchises to use the Insta-Broiler machine.

Insta-Burger King grew rapidly within two years, but began facing financial troubles despite the success. As the company continued to struggle, Miami-based franchisees David Edgerton and James McLamore purchased the company and renamed it Burger King in 1959. Edgerton and McLamore are responsible for many of Burger King’s signature features. They invented the flame broiler machine used today after they realized that the Insta-Broilers would breakdown from the meat drippings. Edgerton and McLamore also created the chain’s mascot, the Burger King in 1955 and McLamore invented the Whopper in 1957. Today, Burger King is one of the largest fast food burger chains in the world and has over 15,000 locations around the world.

All Burger King restaurants in Australia are called Hungry Jack’s because the name Burger King was already trademarked by a food shop in Adelaide when the company decided to expand into the country. Australian master franchisee, Jack Cowin, chose the name Hungry Jack’s from a list provided to him by Burger King.


Sonic was founded in 1953 as Troy Smith was trying to return to his life in Seminole, Oklahoma after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. Smith spent some time working as a milk and bread deliveryman before purchasing a small diner. Not long after, Smith sold the diner so he could start a fast food restaurant called Troy’s Pan Full of Chicken. In 1953, Smith once again shifted gears and took over a walk up root beer stand called the Top Hat, the original name of Sonic.

Initially, customers had to walk up to the Top Hat stand to place their orders, but Smith installed drive-in speakers after seeing them in Louisiana. Smith then hired carhops to deliver the food, thus creating the Sonic of today. In 1956, Smith began franchising the Top Hat after he met Charles Woodrow Pappe, an entrepreneur, who was impressed with Smith’s drive-in restaurant. After learning that Top Hat was already trademarked, Smith and Pappe changed the chain’s name to Sonic in 1959. Since then, Sonic has grown to over 3,600 locations in 45 states.

Instead of having a traditional franchise fee, Troy Smith and Charles Pappe charged two cents per hamburger, which amounted to a penny profit per bag stamped with Sonic’s logo.

Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box was founded in 1951 by Robert O. Peterson in San Diego. Peterson already owned a small chain of restaurants called Topsy’s Drive-In. By the end of the 1940s, Peterson’s restaurants had a circus décor, which he carried over when he opened the first Jack in the Box.

Jack in the Box was one of the first drive-thru restaurants that used the intercom system, which Peterson had bought the rights to use in 1947 from George Manos. Peterson improved on the intercom system and established the first two-way intercom system, the one used today by ever fast food drive-thru. Over the next few decades, Peterson expanded Jack in the Box and in 1968, he sold the company to Ralston Purina Co. Under Ralston Purina, Jack in the Box began franchising and by the end of the 1970s, the chain had 1,000 locations. Today, Jack in the Box is owned by Apollo Global Management and has come to be known for its quirky mascot and wide variety of items meant to satisfy any craving.

Although Jack had always been a staple of Jack in the Box (as the clown on the top of store’s roof and atop the drive-thru intercom), he made his debut as we known him today – the company’s fictional founder, CEO, and ad pitchman – in 1995.

Dunkin’ Donuts

Dunkin’ Donuts dates back to 1948 when William Rosenberg opened a donut and coffee restaurant in Qunicy, Massachusetts called Open Kettle. Two years later, after brainstorming with company executives, Rosenberg decided to rename the restaurant Dunkin’ Donuts. It is the oldest fast food donut chain in the world.

Rosenberg’s goal was to “make and serve the freshest, most delicious coffee and donuts quickly and courteously in modern, well merchandised stores.” Dunkin’ Donuts was an immediate success and in 1955, Rosenberg began opening franchised locations. Within 10 years, Dunkin’ Donuts grew to 100 locations and has not slowed down since. Over time, Dunkin’ Donuts began selling other food, such as breakfast sandwiches. To reflect its expanded menu, Dunkin’ Donuts is currently rebranding itself as just Dunkin’.

Today, there are over 12,400 Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants across 46 countries.


Of all the fast food chains on this list, none have a bigger cult following than In-N-Out Burger. The chain’s popularity is due to its regional availability – In-N-Out does not franchise and never opens locations outside of the Western half of the United States (California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Texas, and Oregon). In-N-Out also touts family values and serves simple yet high quality food that is beloved by nearly everyone that’s tried it.

In-N-Out was founded in 1948 by Harry and Esther Snyder in Baldwin Park, California. The Snyders established In-N-Out as a drive-thru hamburger stand, which was the first of its kind in California. For much of its history, In-N-Out has been family owned. For a few years, following the death of Esther Snyder in 2006, In-N-Out had its first non-family member as the company’s president. However, In-N-Out is once again controlled by a Snyder, Lynsi Martinez, Ester and Harry’s granddaughter.

In-N-Out’s packaging features Bible citations, such as John 3:16, as a reflection of the Snyder family’s Christian beliefs. This was started by Rich Snyder, Harry and Esther’s son, in the 1980s when he took over the company.

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