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Friday, April 15, 2005; Page C12

Happy Birthday -- Want Fries With That?

• It started with a milkshake maker. But not just any milkshake maker.

A salesman named Ray Kroc invested his life savings to market a machine that could make five shakes at once. But he didn't stop there.

Ray Kroc's first McDonald's, in Des Plaines, Illinois, is now a museum. (Nam Y. Huh -- AP)

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So, 50 years ago today, he opened his first McDonald's restaurant, in Des Plaines, Illinois. Burgers cost 15 cents and a bag of fries was a dime.

The idea proved so popular that soon McDonald's restaurants were popping up everywhere. People liked getting their food quickly. They also liked that every McDonald's looked like every other McDonald's, and served the same menu, made the same way. There were no surprises under the golden arches.

Today there are more than 31,000 McDonald's restaurants around the world, serving 50 million people a day.

Nutritionists blame McDonald's and other fast-food outlets for obesity and other health problems, but the company says people make their own choices. At the same time, the company has added healthier foods such as salads, and it recently began a kids campaign focused on eating well and exercising.

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