Explore & Learn
home   ·   online exhibits   ·   pic of the month
pic archive  

November 1997

Burger Chef's Funmeal® concept set the course of fast food promotions. This Star Wars® Funmeal Tray is from a larger collection of almost 2,000 kid's meal items recently donated to The Henry Ford by collector Jeff Escue of Bloomingdale, Illinois. The collection is currently being catalogued.
Image of Funmeal
Click on photo for larger image

Fast Food Collectibles Continue Tradition of Premiums from Late 1800s.

Are the 1970s early history? Yes, in the world of fast food kid's meals, they are.

During the 1960s, fast food restaurants rapidly replaced the drive-ins and "greasy spoon" eateries of the 1940s and 1950s. With their promise of wholesome family fun, speedy service, and low cost, these restaurants became so popular that they put many of us in the habit of eating out regularly and, for better or worse, forever altered our eating habits.

In fierce competition for customers, restaurants offered giveaways and promotions such as tickets, coupons, and drinking glasses. But it was the Burger Chef® Funmeal® concept that set the course of fast food promotions. By 1973, the Cincinnati-based chain offered specially designed cardboard carrying trays that held a child-size burger, drink, and fries and incorporated graphics and games that changed weekly.

Burger Chef was also the first fast food franchise to acquire a major license for a kid's meal promotion. In 1978, they bought the rights to the Lucasfilm movie Star Wars, possibly because the Kenner Toy Company, also headquartered in Cincinnati, was having great success selling Star Wars toys. During the promotion, Burger Chef produced seven fold-out trays, including this one from Henry Ford Museum's collection, which depicts a Land Speeder® that could be punched out and assembled.

McDonald's Restaurants, originator of McDonald's® Happy Meals®, had long offered special promotions and giveaway items to children, but they did not begin testing special children's meals until 1977. In part due to the huge success of Burger Chef's Star Wars promotion, McDonald's responded that same year with their Happy Meal promoting Star Trek: The Motion Picture. McDonald's did, however, set the standard for putting an additional prize in the box, now expected in virtually every kid's meal.

The idea of giveaways, or premiums, to attract customers is not new. Premiums date back to the late 1800s, when competitors tried to differentiate their soap or chewing gum by giving away collectible cards or special coupons for consumer goods such as phonographs, cameras, and silverware. Henry Ford Museum has several examples of early premium catalogs in its collection.

Today, kid's meal toys are not just for kids, as witnessed by the Teenie Beanie Babies® craze at McDonald's last spring. These unique, creatively designed, and usually fairly high quality items are prized and collected by adults as well as children.

Check out these kid's meal web sites:

Fast Food Toys Books and Publications - http://www.concentric.net/~Gabrielc/books.htm

Rick & Daphne's Web Guide for Fast Food Toy Collectors - http://fastfoodtoys.50megs.com

The best search is through the term "Happy Meal"

Star Wars and Land Speeder are registered trademarks of Lucasfilm.
Burger Chef and Funmeal are registered trademarks of Burger Chef Systems, Inc., 1978.
McDonald's and Happy Meal are registered trademarks of McDonald's Corporation.
Teenie Beanie Babies is a registered trademark of McDonald's Corporation.
All other brands or product names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies.


[ Pic of the Month ]    [ Pic Archive ]


Copyright © 1995-2000 The Henry Ford  ~  http://www.TheHenryFord.org