McDonald's, Technology, and Job Creation
With all the blather about "green energy," a real story about using technology to improve energy efficiency and thereby create jobs seems to be in order. So let me tell you a tale about arguably the Greatest Job-Creator of the Twentieth Century.
His name was Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald's Corporation. Depending upon the source you use, somewhere between one out of eight and one out of ten of all Americans in the labor force has at one time or another worked for McDonald's. That is a lot of jobs! And even in 2011, the largest hiring event in the nation was a one-day jobs push by McDonald's, which resulted in 62,000 new hires that day.
While there were many innovations fostered by Mr. Kroc, I can personally relate the story of two of them. During the late 1970s, we faced an energy crisis with rapidly increasing energy costs. Having started out as a milkshake mixer salesman for the equipment manufacturer, Prince Castle, Mr. Kroc had created within his company an equipment-engineering department tasked with devising new equipment that served the goals of quality, efficiency, and consistency. Two of their successes were the high-efficiency gas fryer and the pass-through sandwich bin. I worked with the McDonald's engineers in creating both.
Anyone who remembers McDonald's from those days knows that their signature product (and highest-margin item) was their French fries. Unlike their competition, McDonald's cooked the fries in lard, not cooking oil (this was before the food police struck). Given that lard solidifies at room temperature, there was a problem of liquefying it when in start-up mode without endangering the cooks. So we put in a variety of electronic controls at a time when the industry standard was to use a minimum of very cheap and relatively crude electromechanical controls. Among the key innovations were electronic spark ignition for the gas burner in combination with a high-efficiency burner, which eliminated the pilot light, and a "melt cycle" timer which kept the heat input low until the lard had melted. The resultant efficiency of the fryer was so great an improvement on the then-state-of-the-art fryer that when it was introduced, the store owners would rip out and replace existing fryers that were only two years old.
Combined with the "French fry computer," made by Prince Castle, McDonalds now had a money-making machine that produced something customers wanted: an attractively priced, tasty French fry. In those days, the key to becoming a millionaire within one year was to be awarded a McDonald's franchise. The sophistication of the fryer and computer combination allowed the franchisees to hire teenagers who could not boil water at home and make them employable as cooks in the stores.
The pass-through sandwich bin is another thing that those who remember the heady days of McDonald's growth will recall. It was a bin located between the grills and the sales counter. Open on the front and back and kept heated by an air curtain effect, it allowed the cooks to pre-cook sandwiches and feed them into the back as the sales crew sold them out of the front. This kept the residency time to a minimum, ensured first-in-first-out inventory control, and kept the sandwiches warm and prevented them from drying out during the dwell time. Those bins put the "fast" into fast food. Customers could walk into a store and walk out again in less than a minute with a hot lunch. That was a revolutionary change in the business. No one remembers going into a Howard Johnson's restaurant anymore.
McDonald's went on to become a global chain that brings lots of money into the United States economy by providing food products that customers worldwide prove they want by paying hard cash. So it is true that technology can bring great benefits to our economy, in part by the "green" virtue of energy efficiency, and can provide lots of jobs in the process. But there has to be a viable economic basis for the process to work. Being able to get a fast hot lunch at a very reasonable cost was such a big improvement over carrying a baloney sandwich in a lunch pail that it provided the requisite economic boost. It made the investment of substantial sums of money worthwhile in the improvement of both quality-of-life issues and employment and made McDonalds rich, and Ray Kroc the Greatest Job-Creator of the Twentieth Century.
Bruce Thompson is a frequent contributor to American Thinker and maintains a blog MachiasPrivateer, which has a story of another job-creator: the author's father, Robert Thompson.