Skip to content

The Most Popular Fast-Food Chain the Year You Were Born

From White Castle to Wendy's, here's when every fast-food chain peaked during your childhood.
mcdonalds

Fast food is an undeniable part of the culinary landscape across the globe, with the United States, in particular, serving as a hub for these quick-and-easy chains. Approximately 25 percent of American adults eat something from a fast-food chain every day, and more than a third of kids are eating fast food daily. Whether you're crazy about Chipotle burritos or can't say no to a Big Mac, odds are you're giving in to your fast food cravings from time to time. The CDC reports that U.S. adults consume an average of 11.3 percent of their calories from fast food.

However, that hasn't always been the case. Long before there was a Starbucks on every corner and a McDonald's drive-thru within a mile of every suburb, fast-food chains were rolling out new items to test markets around the world. Before you hit up another chain, find out which fast-food items were the most popular the year you were born.

1940s

1940: KFC

kfc restaurant exterior
Shutterstock

While KFC was first founded in Harland "Colonel" Sanders' native Kentucky (and originally called the Sanders Court and Cafe), it wasn't until a decade later that his signature blend of 11 herbs and spices was born. In 1940, Sanders introduced the Original Recipe chicken to the delight of fast-food fans.

RELATED: Sign up for our newsletter to get daily recipes and food news in your inbox!

1941: Carl's Jr.

carls jr restaurant
Shutterstock

Carl's Jr., formerly known as Carl's Drive-In Barbecue, first offered its famous burgers in 1941.

1947: Fatburger

fatburger sign
Ken Wolter/Shutterstock

Fatburger first made its mark on the fast-food industry with its eponymous burger in 1947. The chain, which opened its first restaurant in Los Angeles' Exposition Park, now has locations in more than a dozen countries.

1948: McDonald's

Mcdonalds bag

While McDonald's was first founded in 1940, it wasn't until 1948 that McDonald's perfected its fast-food model, then called Speedee Service, bringing its hamburgers to an increasing number of customers each year that followed.

1949: Dairy Queen

Dairy queen
Shutterstock

While malts and milkshakes may seem like they've been around forever, it wasn't until 1949 that Dairy Queen introduced them to customers in the United States. And in 1951, DQ added banana splits to the menu, further increasing its offerings of frozen treats.

1950s

1950: Whataburger

Whataburger restaurant
Shutterstock

Whataburger first started serving its now-famous burgers in 1950 and now operates hundreds of stores across the United States.

1951: White Castle

White castle restaurant
Shutterstock

While White Castle first opened its doors in 1921, it wasn't until 30 years later that it perfected its recipe. The five-holed burger you'd get at a White Castle today was first introduced in 1951.

1953: Burger King

burger king restaurant exterior
Shutterstock

Burger King hasn't always been fast-food royalty. The chain first introduced its popular hamburger to the American market in 1953 and has been serving millions of customers a year ever since.

1955: Dunkin'

Dunkin' donuts logo
Shutterstock

Originally known as Open Kettle, Dunkin' in its current form began franchising—and bringing its sweet treats to delighted customers—in 1955.

1957: Burger King

burger king sign storefront
Shutterstock

Burger King's most famous menu item, the Whopper, a quarter-pound burger with tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise, ketchup, and pickles on a sesame seed-topped bun, has been a hit for the chain for decades. The Whopper was first introduced in 1957.

1960s

1961: In-N-Out

In-N-Out Burger sign
Shutterstock

While it seems as though everyone knows about In-N-Out's not-so-secret Animal Style burger, it wasn't until 1961 that this burger hit the market.

1962: McDonald's

the mcdonalds golden arches set against a bluebird sky
Bubbers BB/Shutterstock

McDonald's first foray into fish came about in 1962 with the introduction of the wildly popular Filet-O-Fish. This sandwich offered a viable fast food alternative to burgers for Catholic customers, who typically eschew red meat on Fridays during Lent.

1964: Chick-fil-A

Chick fil a sign
Shutterstock

While Chick-fil-A's original incarnation, Dwarf Grill, first opened its doors in 1946, it wasn't until nearly two decades later that its most popular menu item was born. In 1964, the Original Chicken Sandwich was introduced, quickly becoming a wildly popular fast-food order.

1965: Subway

subway neon open sign
Shutterstock

Long before the five-dollar footlongs (and the scandal), Subway was just another sandwich shop. The popular chain first rolled out its now-famous sub in 1965.

1968: McDonald's

Mcdonald's logo
Shutterstock

More than 20 years after McDonald's opened its doors, the chain created its most famous menu item to date. The Big Mac, one of the most popular McDonald's creations of all time, was first gobbled up by fast food fans in 1968.

1970s

1972: McDonald's

Mcdonald's drive thru
Shutterstock

The on-the-go fast food breakfast was undeniably perfected by McDonald's when the chain rolled out its Egg McMuffin in 1972.

1975: In-N-Out

in-n-out burger restaurant
Michael Gordon/Shutterstock

For over a decade, those Animal Style fries and burgers had no dessert-like accompaniments. Fortunately, in 1975, the chain started serving its decadent milkshakes.

1976: Popeyes Fried Chicken

popeyes restaurant storefront
Ken Wolter/Shutterstock

It wasn't until more than 40 years after KFC was founded that its biggest competitor hit the market. In 1976, Popeyes first introduced its spicy, Southern-style fried chicken to captivated consumers everywhere.

1977: Mrs. Fields'

Mrs fields cookies
Shutterstock

Once a staple in every mall, Mrs. Fields' famous chocolate chip cookies begin their rise to dessert dominance in 1977. While this chain isn't as ubiquitous as it once was, it still operates hundreds of kiosks worldwide.

1979: McDonald's

McDonald's happy meal toys
Shutterstock

The McDonald's Happy Meal was first rolled out in 1979 and has been a staple on the chain's menu ever since. However, it may not be around forever: Research suggests that the popularity of the Happy Meal has steadily declined in recent years.

1980s

1980: McDonald's

mcchicken
Courtesy of McDonald's

It wasn't until the 1980s that McDonald's began rebranding itself with new non-burger alternatives. The chain's popular McChicken sandwich was first introduced in 1980.

1981: Quiznos

Quiznos exterior
Shutterstock

More than 15 years after Subway launched its popular sandwiches, Quiznos followed suit with a similar model. In 1981, the chain introduced opened its first store in Denver, Colorado.

1983: McDonald's

Mcdonalds chicken nugget
McDonald's/Facebook

While Chicken McNuggets have been on select McDonald's menus since 1980, you couldn't purchase them at every McDonald's until a few years later. Chicken McNuggets' popularity influenced a nationwide rollout in 1983.

1985: Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen's most famous menu item took more than two decades to reach peak popularity. While it was originally introduced in the 1960s, it wasn't until 1985 that the Blizzard was popular enough to be sold at stores nationwide.

1986: Wendy's

A bigger burger for Americans' ever-growing appetites was introduced by Wendy's in 1986. Dubbed the Big Classic, this burger topped a Kaiser roll with a quarter-pound patty, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, ketchup, mayonnaise, and special seasoning.

1990s

1992: McDonald's

Mcdonalds apple pie

Although McDonald's fried pie first hit the market in 1968, it took another 24 years for another iteration to be introduced. In 1992, the chain rolled out the ever-popular baked apple pie.

1993: Chipotle Burritos

chipotle mexican grill storefront at nighttime
Shutterstock

For many millennials, Chipotle feels like it's been part of our fast food fabric forever. However, it wasn't until 1993 that the chain opened its doors, welcoming Tex-Mex fans to its world of oversized burritos. Today, each Chipotle location serves an average of 771 burritos every single day.

1995: Starbucks

Starbucks line
Shutterstock

When Starbucks was first founded in 1971, the chain's menu was all about serving basic coffee to its under-caffeinated customer base. That all changed in 1995 when Starbucks rolled out its Frappuccino, which is now available in both caffeinated and coffee-free flavors.

1997: McDonald's

Mcdonald's mcflurry
Shutterstock

McDonald's took more than half a century to roll out its popular McFlurry treat. Unfortunately, the unreliability of the chain's ice cream and milkshake machines makes the odds of you getting one pretty iffy.

1998: Burger King

burger king sign
Shutterstock

Fast food breakfast got a whole lot sweeter in 1998. It was then that Burger King introduced its Cini-Minis, tiny cinnamon rolls so popular they made a brief return in late 2018.

2000s

2001: Carl's Jr.

Carl's Jr. hopped on the "bigger is better bandwagon" in the early 2000s. The hamburger giant first rolled out its popular Thickburger in 2001. Today, you can get that burger with topped with a hot dog and potato chips in what's been dubbed the Most American Thickburger.

RELATED: Easy, healthy, 350-calorie recipe ideas you can make at home.

2002: Arby's

Arbys storefront
Courtesy of Arby's

Arby's deviated from its usual roast beef menu in 2002. The chain rolled out its Ultimate BLT sandwich that year.

2005: Burger King

Burger king chicken fries
Facebook/Burger King

Chicken Fries, Burger King's popular hybrid of chicken strips and French fries first fed hungry customers in 2005.

2006: Wendy's

Wendys frosty

The chocolate Frosty was one of the very first products on the Wendy's menu when the chain opened its doors in 1969. However, it wasn't until 2006 that Wendy's began offering the popular vanilla alternative in the majority of its stores.

2007: Wendy's

wendys baconfest sign
Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

Bacon burgers finally got their due in 2007. It was that year that Wendy's introduced the Baconator, a hamburger topped with bacon and cheese, which has remained popular to this day.

Filed Under