How Long John Silver's Got Its Name

Like many other quick service restaurants (McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's included), Long John Silver's got its start in the mid-20th century, a buzzing time for the fast food industry. Launched in 1969, the Lexington-based seafood chain expanded rapidly in the '70s, and by 1980 had become a national brand, with a network of about 1,000 restaurants. But similar to other major fast food brands, Long John Silver's can trace its roots back several decades before its official founding. All the way back, in fact, to the 19th century.

You won't be able to find it on their website, but a main thread of the Long John Silver's story begins with early-20th century Kentucky entrepreneur Jerome Lederer. As broken down on Mental Floss, Lederer opened a small hamburger stand in his home state in 1929, naming it the White Tavern Shoppe. The restaurant did well enough that Lederer was able to expand, founding Jericco Inc. in 1946, a parent company for his growing fleet of restaurants and stores. Lederer died in 1963, but Jerrico Inc. continued to grow, with then-CEO Warren Rosenthal expanding the company's portfolio in 1969 with a new line of quick service seafood restaurants: Long John Silver's. 

A seafaring icon to sell seafood

A fledgling company in the still-emerging quick service seafood market, Long John Silver's owes much to Lederer's early work and the momentum he had built with Jerrico Inc, per Reference for Business. But the seafood chain's story reaches even further back than the '20s –– all the way back to 1883, in fact. In terms of its story as a brand, Long John Silver's has the 19th century built right into its name.

As broken down on Mental Floss, the Long John Silver's brand name is tied closely to the work of 19th century Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson. When searching for a name for their seafood chain, the company's founders drew on Stevenson's 1883 classic novel "Treasure Island" for inspiration. They knew the name of their chain had to be nautical in theme, and they experimented with titles like "Limey's" and "Barnacle Bill's." But true to industry form, they ultimately settled on a brand name that was already market-tested and proven: Long John Silver, the principal villain of "Treasure Island" (and model for most 20th and 21st century pirate iconography, says The Guardian). The concept stuck, and to this day Long John Silver's restaurants still give out free fish on International Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19).