It was 1967 and a Pittsburgh-area McDonald’s franchisee wanted a sandwich that might attract more adults to his restaurants.
He cooked up a marketing icon, the Big Mac, destined to become a symbol of America’s fast-food culture and the best-selling item ever to hit a restaurant menu.
With over 14 billion of the sandwich sold since its introduction nationwide in 1968, McDonald’s Corp. celebrates the 25th birthday of the Big Mac today with inventor M. J. (Jim) Delligatti as the special guest.
Mayor Sophie Masloff will proclaim Pittsburgh “Big Mac City, U.S.A.,” even though it was actually nearby Uniontown, Pa., that first sampled the immortal burger.
Delligatti admits that he got the idea from “double-decker” hamburgers already served at area diners. He took standard McDonald’s ingredients, split a bun into three pieces and topped it off with a special sauce. The rest is history.
Delligatti started selling Big Macs at his restaurant in Uniontown, just south of Pittsburgh. They sold so well that he introduced them at three of his other restaurants in the region.
“At one time we were the lowest-volume store of any large city (in the McDonald’s chain),” Delligatti said in a telephone interview. “A few years after the Big Mac introduction, we became the largest--a distinction we held for a couple of years.”
Delligatti attributed the success of the sandwich to its size and taste, adding: “And it was priced right.”
Delligatti introduced Big Macs at 49 cents each in 1967. The sandwich sells for $2.01 at Pittsburgh-area stores today.
McDonald’s advertising for the sandwich has ingrained its seven ingredients--two all-beef patties, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, special sauce on a sesame seed bun--into the American subconsciousness.
But Delligatti said the company has changed the sauce from the original 1967 version, a secret mixture he created himself in the back room of his restaurant.
“We don’t mix the sauce in the back room like we did at the very beginning,” he said, though the sauce McDonald’s is using--its ingredients are secret--is based on Delligatti’s original recipe. The light red sauce appears to rely heavily on mayonnaise and ketchup.
Delligatti, who declined to give his age, said he, his son and grandson today own 15 Pittsburgh-area McDonald’s restaurants.
McDonald’s today sells the Big Mac at more than 13,000 restaurants in 66 countries.
But though his brainchild has netted the corporation millions, Delligatti said the Big Mac has earned him only “a plaque and a lot of satisfaction.”