The untold truth of the Hamburglar

Think fast food, and most people think of McDonald's first. There's a whole list of reasons why that is, and it doesn't even start with their food. It starts with McDonaldland.

Anyone of a certain age — anyone who grew up in the '70s, '80s, or '90s, that is — remembers McDonaldland and its inhabitants, including the Hamburglar, Grimace, and Ronald McDonald himself. They all made their first appearance in 1971, and for decades, they were the face of the chain. Kids saw the commercials, begged for their Happy Meals, and played on playgrounds filled with their likenesses. That's powerful stuff when you're a kid, and that nostalgia might be why you still head there when you're looking for a guilty pleasure.

Hamburglar was McDonaldland's resident scamp, and you probably remember his striped clothes, his weird cry of "Robble, Robble!" and the fact he — and his companions — were slightly creepy. He was all over the place during your childhood, disappeared in the early 21st century, and then came back as a… well, let's look at just what his deal is.

He was originally a creepy old man

Hamburglar was just one of the residents of McDonaldland, and he was created — along with Officer Big Mac, Mayor McCheese, Grimace, and Captain Crook — as a part of 1971's McDonaldland advertising campaign (via Mental Floss). While Grimace and some of the other characters remained largely the same, Hamburglar started out pretty different from the lovable little urchin he was in the '80s. In fact, the earliest version of him was less "child-friendly" and more "call the cops, he's not supposed to be within 50 yards of a school."

That's another way of saying he was a terrifying old man with long, stringy grey hair, a black mask, and weird, rat-like teeth. He was still only obsessed with stealing hamburgers, but taking a look back at the oldest McDonaldland commercials makes you wonder if the ad agency really understood their target audience. He's more likely to give kids nightmares than have them asking to go see him, and it wasn't long before he got a makeover.

He was once a creepy flasher called "The Lone Jogger"

The original character wasn't the only incarnation of Hamburglar to be make people very uncomfortable, and even when he got a makeover out of his "creepy old man" phase, they didn't get it 100 percent right on the first try (via The Atlantic).

After the old man, he was still pretty rat-looking, and wore a white T-shirt over striped clothes. Written on the front was "Lone Jogger" in what looks like old-school, iron-on letters — but why? Any sort of rationale seems to have been long lost in McDonald's history. As if it couldn't get more creepy, he showed off his shirt by spreading open his cape like some sort of flasher. It wasn't until 1985 someone realized they should probably make him a little less disturbing, and that's when he turned into the round-faced, cherubic little scamp most people remember.

He was once part of a duo

Sure, you remember Hamburglar, but did you remember that he used to be one half of a criminally-minded duo? Possibly not, as his counterpart, Captain Crook, disappeared in the 1980s.

While the Hamburglar was unnaturally fixated on stealing hamburgers, Captain Crook — or just The Captain, as he was more commonly called — was busy hatching schemes to steal Filet-O-Fish sandwiches. The Captain was pretty blatantly "based on" Captain Hook from Peter Pan, and when he was finally dropped, it was more about streamlining their cast of characters than anything else.

But dropping him necessitated a change to Hamburglar. Until The Captain disappeared, Hamburglar tended to speak in only a sort of gibberish that no one could understand… except for The Captain, who would usually step in when needed to tell everyone else what was going on with the strange little thief. Without his translator, Hamburglar needed to learn how to speak for himself.

He did talk… sort of

Here's another bit of trivia that you might not remember about Hamburglar: Did you know that he used to speak? When Hamburglar was in his cherubic, impish, not-at-all-scary incarnation, he most commonly shouted the mysterious, "Robble, robble!" That's what everyone remembers, but he really did say more than that.

And that's sort of unfortunate, because that voice is the stuff of nightmares. Check out the video here and see. It's a 1985 commercial called The Hamburglar Touch, and it's basically what happens when Hamburglar gets the power to turn everything into hamburgers just by touching things, sort of like a King Midas power we'd really like to have. He definitely uses the word "robble" a lot, but he also squeals and cheers and does a lot of shouting (other words!) in a voice that sounds like it belongs to a hamster on helium. Just goes to show, creepy comes in all forms.

There's a story about how he got his stripes

One quick glance at Hamburglar, and it'd be easy to assume he's dressed in black and white horizontal stripes because he's a crook right? Clearly, those are prison stripes.

Only, they're not. The only place you're going to find the truth is in an old, retro McDonald's commercial that explains just why he's got those striped clothes. Apparently, he originally dressed entirely in black, Johnny Cash style. It wasn't until he tried to steal some of Ronald's hamburgers that McDonaldland's head honcho grabbed a piece of his clothing, spun him around and around, and it tore off in strips that were white underneath. Hence, the stripes.

There are old commercials that suggest his stripes have special powers, including one from Japan where he pulls his black stripe off to make a rope. He's wearing all white while he uses the black stripe as a sort of lasso, and fails every attempt to snag some burgers before eventually tying himself up. Silly Hamburglar.

He was retired from 2002 to 2015

For years, Hamburglar ran around stealing hamburgers, stashing them in his sack, and looking innocently bemused every time he was caught. Until, that is, he disappeared in 2002, according to USA Today.

(It's worth noting that dates are a little fuzzy here, since McDonald's has never really issued a straightforward statement on what's going on. Mental Floss says he and Grimace were both retired in 2003, but either way, he disappeared around that time.)

So, what happened to these iconic characters? Marketing experts say that Hamburglar was reminiscent of a time when people — and McDonald's — were concerned more about cheap and fast than healthy. Getting rid of them was an attempt to start re-branding, and when Hamburglar was brought back in 2015, he got a complete update in an attempt to keep the nostalgia but create a character that was trendy enough for a new generation. Did it work?

The new Hamburglar was designed for Millennials

When Hamburglar revealed he'd been living the life of a suburban dad before donning his stripes and mask again for a 2015 ad campaign, responses were mixed (via CNN). They were extreme, too, with people either saying he was very, very disturbing or weirdly attractive. There's not a whole lot of middle ground there, and according to what McDonald's had to say about the redesign (via Fast Company), there were a few things to it.

It was part of an image update, capturing a bit of nostalgia while setting McDonald's up as a "modern, progressive burger company," according to Marketing VP Joel Yashinsky. Progressive? Maybe. While there were a ton of mixed reactions to the new Hamburglar, a poll from Jezebel found that a vast majority would be willing to hop in the sack with him, and that supports a theory from The Guardian. They note that this new, almost-hipster Hamburglar was designed to appeal to the age group that's least likely to go to McDonald's: the late 20s to early 30s. They also say McD's may have been onto something with their very, very different take on a classic character.

There's a big problem with the new Hamburglar

There's actually a big problem with the new incarnation of Hamburglar, and we're not talking about those people on social media who are pointing out he looks like the creepy uncle you don't want to leave alone with your kids (via E! Online).

Entertainment Weekly points out that the problem is, well, he's just too attractive. He's a dad without the dad-bod, he's stylish, he's scruffy, and he's got a grin that's reminiscent of Han Solo on a very good day. He's definitely not the sort of fellow you'd expect to see going through the drive thru, making a ton of poor life choices, then eating it all himself on the way home. They point out there's a bit of misrepresentation going on here: anyone who listens to the advertising and eats a burger or two from McDonald's every day is definitely not going to end up looking like this guy, and that's a little misleading. Is it a legit complaint? We're not sure, but it brings up an interesting question: should fast food mascots be an honest reflection of what their food does? If so, Hamburglar should be in line for yet another makeover in the very near future.

The whole idea makes no sense

When you're a kid, you don't question the magic. That's what makes childhood so great, after all, so let's ruin some childhoods. As Time points out, there's nothing about Hamburglar that makes no sense.

On the surface, sure. He loves hamburgers, so he steals them. But look at it this way: McDonald's whole deal is how they're fast and affordable, so why should he want to steal them anyway?

Plus, burgers are only really good for an incredibly short time. All those burgers he's stealing aren't going to be good by the time he gets to eat them — and how many can that little guy eat, anyway? He's also shoving them in a sack and carrying them off to his Hamburglar hideout, so let's look at what he's going to be getting when he gets there — cold, soggy, crushed burgers. Yuck. So, why does he do it? Because he can? To create a little chaos? Because he's got nothing else going on? Whatever his motivation, it actually is pretty illogical.