The Real Reason McDonald's Got Rid Of Officer Big Mac

Even in McDonaldland, they needed law and order. And while the made-up world of trippy fast food characters didn't exactly have Ice-T chasing down criminal deviants and Sam Waterston prosecuting their cases, it did have a police force of its own. That force consisted of one man, and his name was Officer Big Mac. Like an old west sheriff who battled burger-snatching convicts and fish rassling pirates, he roamed the streets of McDonaldland making sure everyone was kept in line.

Whether or not Officer Big Mac was a good cop is a subject of much debate. Yes, he was fairly effective at keeping the Hamburglar and Captain Crook at bay. But he was also the subject of a federal investigation after causing hundreds of injuries, and was potentially forced into early retirement as the result of a lawsuit. Then there was that time he got kidnapped. So read on and decide for yourself why Officer Big Mac reigns over McDonaldland no more. Was it simple marketing? Or did he and Mayor McCheese have a lot more beef between them than we were led to believe?

Officer Big Mac was part of the original McDonaldland lineup

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald's, shared a famous philosophy with Walt Disney: that brand loyalty could be established as young as 2 years old. With that in mind, as the '70s began, the hamburger chain sought to hook kids early; McDonald's beckoned them under the Golden Arches with a troupe of lovable characters, collectively known as McDonaldland. According to a Mental Floss history of McDonaldland, the lineup was highlighted by legendary clown Ronald McDonald, but also included a pirate, a thief, a mayor, and a four-armed purple blob named Evil Grimace.

Also among the McDonaldland gang was a cop with a Big Mac for a head, a coy marketing ploy for a sandwich that had only been introduced four years earlier. His name was Officer Big Mac, and in addition to his sesame seed and special sauce noggin, he boasted a full British constable's uniform, complete with a bobby hat that looked about 900 sizes too small. He was designed to invoke reminiscence of the Keystone Kops, a sort of lovably bumbling police force from the silent movie era. A serious cop he was not, but a delicious one he was.

Officer Big Mac's main tasks were to stop the Hamburgler and Captain Crook from stealing

A cop without a criminal is a like a fisherman without a fish. So in order to justify his existence (and, we assume, his salary paid by the taxpayers of McDonaldland), the ad team at Needham, Harper & Steers who created McDonaldland also needed some criminals for Officer Big Mac to catch. Enter the Hamburglar, a horizontal-striped ne'er-do-well whose entire life was devoted to stealing McDonald's hamburgers. According to Mental Floss, he was originally called "The Lone Jogger," with unkempt grey hair and a generally transient appearance. Though his look was improved a bit to appeal to children, his criminal motives remained the same.

The other major criminal element in McDonaldland was Captain Crook, a pirate who spent his days chasing not buried treasure, but Filet-o-Fish sandwiches. Though we'd guess those probably don't translate as well to being kept in an undersea chest for hundreds of years, they were his booty of choice nonetheless. And it was up to Officer Big Mac to keep him in line.

Officer Big Mac may have been a little too close to H.R. Pufnstuf

Of course, McDonaldland was not without its controversies. While today those controversies might surround the marketing of inherently unhealthy food to little kids, in the '70s the issues were more concerning copyright infringement than anything else. Prior to launching the McDonaldland campaign, Needham, Harper, and Steers had approached the creators of children's show H.R. Pufnstuf about collaborating on a McDonald's campaign. The firm then told creators Sid and Marty Kroft the plan wasn't happening.

However not long afterward, McDonald's launched McDonaldland, with a cast of characters that looked suspiciously like the gang from H.R. PufnstufA lawsuit followed, alleging among other things that the characters of Mayor McCheese and Officer Big Mac looked almost identical to H.R. Pufnstuf himself — and the similarly oversized head, thin body, and narrow mouth are hard to deny. Ultimately, McDonald's lost the lawsuit and was ordered to pay over $1 million in damages, which apparently, was worth a lot more in the 1970s.

A statue of Officer Big Mac was stolen in 1983

Miami during the '80s was a rough place. The international drug trade made the city the murder capital of America during the middle part of the decade, and the rampant crime inspired pastel-colored cultural classics like Miami Vice and Scarface. Crimes against law enforcement officials fighting the cocaine cowboys were also commonplace during the time. And though we can neither confirm nor deny that Officer Big Mac was working to slow the drug trade in the '80s, he was still unable to escape its wrath.

According to Thrillist's comprehensive history of the Big Mac, in 1983 a five-foot fiberglass version of Officer Big Mac mysteriously went missing from a Miami McDonald's, with a group called NPLO claiming responsibility. It may have been a ruthless cartel. It may also have stood for "No Pickles, Lettuce, Onions." But the ransom note demanded 40 billion Big Macs and 40 billion plus one French fries, and was subsequently ignored. Officer Big Mac was never heard from again, and presumably lost like so many to the turbulent world that was South Florida in the late twentieth century.

The Big Mac Climber was a personal injury liability

One of Officer Big Mac's more memorable relics was his playland structure, widely known as the Big Mac Climber. Why was it so memorable? Yes, it was an enjoyable jail simulation where you got to climb "behind bars," that also doubled as Officer Bic Mac's mouth. But also, as commenter thatguyinphilly so poignantly put it in a story from The Takeout, "there was always some kid getting stuck in Officer Big Mac's head."

Though his comment is somewhat in jest, injuries on the Big Mac Climber were a pretty serious thing. According to a 1999 story from the South Florida Sun Sentinel, over 400 children were injured as a result of Officer Big Mac, causing everything from skull fractures to broken bones to concussions. McDonald's, who didn't report the injuries and instead just phased out the Big Mac Climber, was ultimately investigated by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission. The result was a $4 million fine, the largest fine the CPSC had ever assessed at the time.

You can still find Officer Big Mac climbers for sale

That said, if you're jonesing for your own personal injury lawsuit or Product Safety Commission investigation — or just have a tinge of nostalgia — you can still find Big Mac Climbers for sale on the interwebs. Though the last of the structures was phased out in 1997, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, collectors around the world still have them stashed somewhere, and are willing to part with them for a hefty sum.

In March of 2020, the Daily Mail reported someone in Dunedin, New Zealand was auctioning off a slightly-chipped Big Mac Climber on the site Trade Me. As of the story's publication, it had garnered 112 bids topping out at $620. That was a fraction of the 2017 Trade Me auction that included a climber, a Mayor McCheese merry-go-round, and a Hamburglar swing set; it was the site's most viewed auction of the year, and reportedly sold for $11,000.

But you don't need to fly all the way to the South Island to find a Big Mac Climber. In 2016, Curbed reported a Pennsylvania man had restored one and was selling it on eBay. The asking price was $6,000, but at the time it had received no bids.

Officer Big Mac was retired along with others in a mid-'80s "streamlining" of characters

During the mid-'80s, McDonald's trimmed down its original cast of McDonaldland characters, phasing out some of the lesser-known entities and focusing on Ronald McDonald and a few others. According to Eat This, Not That, one of the casualties of the streamlining was Officer Big Mac, who turned in his badge in the middle of the "Me" decade. Though no official reason for the cast cutting was given, theories still abound.

Probably the most popular theory is that McDonald's axed the characters who most closely resembled the disputed characters from H.R. Pufnstuf. Though the official lawsuit decision had no order to this effect, the TV Tropes blog hypothesized that the 1985 discontinuation of Mayor McCheese, Officer Big Mac, Captain Crook, and The Professor were a result of the lawsuit. And while that's mostly internet speculation, it's also not completely out of the question.

Some believe Officer Big Mac was crooked cop who got what he had coming

While theorizing that Officer Big Mac was forced into retirement as part of a copyright infringement lawsuit is the kind of internet speculation that may have a grain of truth to it, other speculation is completely out of whack — but still undeniably funny nonetheless. 

If you look up Officer Big Mac in the McDonald's Fandom Wiki, you'll find a lot of the general biographical information you've read above, but at the end you'll also come across our favorite theory as to why McDonaldland's only cop got the axe. "He was a crooked cop, often letting Hamburglar and Captain Crook go due to them paying bribes to him. It is believe[d] that he started a sentient burger trafficking ring," the wiki hypothesizes. It then moves on to a section on the death of Officer Big Mac, attributed not to a copyright infringement lawsuit but rather an unfortunate shootout with Mayor McCheese, the result of a bad trafficking deal. He was listed as survived by a widow and 58 children.