The Possible Reason So Many Fast-Food Chains Got Their Start In California

If someone were to ask you what McDonald's, Jack in the Box, and In-N-Out Burger all have in common, the first answers off the top of your head may be that they all sell burgers or are simply popular fast-food chains. While those are undeniably true, these restaurants share more than just familiar menu items, but also familiar roots.

Hamburger juggernaut McDonald's famously got its start in San Bernardino, California back in the 1940s under brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald (via McDonald's), with the oldest operating McDonalds located just an hour or so away from San Bernardino in Downey. Jack in the Box started in San Diego under Robert Peterson in 1951 (via Mental Itch). California's own cult-classic chain In-N-Out Burger began — where else? — in Baldwin Park in 1948 (via In-N-Out). So, they all began in California.

How is it that so many fast food restaurant chains got their start in the Golden State? What exactly was it about California that drew in so many drive-thrus? The answer isn't just in the sunny climate and beachside attractions that California is known for, but instead lies in the feeling of four-wheeled freedom and optimism that emerged following World War II.

California was big into car culture

California being home to so many fast-food chains is related to America's love affair with cars. Americans especially found themselves enamored with a four-wheeled lifestyle in the late 1940s and 50s, when an eager American public raced to get back to some degree of normalcy after World War II, and suburbanization took hold (via 7,987,000 vehicles were produced in 1950 alone (via RetroWaste) and, with the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956, America transformed into an urbanizing "nation of drivers" that sped down miles of state-to-state asphalt (via Mental Floss).

California became synonymous with an on-the-go, fast and free lifestyle that cars and interstates offered. As History Daily describes it, travel makes one hungry, but when you're in a rush to get to your destination, you have no time to sit around and wait for your meal. Accurately recognizing that the American love of cars could be combined with fast food, many restaurants in the California area offering cheap, fast food sprung up to cater to this new type of customer. The modern drive-thru restaurant model pioneered by California's In-N-Out Burger (via First We Feast) soon took off around the country. 

While In-N-Out Burger and Jack in the Box remain somewhat territorial even today, you can always count on seeing a pair of Golden Arches or another fast-food restaurant lighting your way down highways around the country. And many of them began in California.