Arrive from any direction at the congested intersection of Shawano and Military Avenues and it’s impossible to miss — the bright yellow parabolic arch, the white McDonald’s lettering against a cherry red background, and the caricature of a harried, yet amiable chef. A sign above his hamburger-shaped head announces, “I’m Speedee”, a representation of the marketing message of the era (c. 1959) — quick and efficient “Speedee” service — when the concept of drive-in-and-serve-yourselves restaurants was in its infancy.
McDonald’s originated in San Bernardino, California in 1948, the brainchild of brothers Maurice “Mac” and Richard “Dick” McDonald. In order to meet the demands of their soon booming venture, the “Speedee Service System” was conceived with a simple premise — provide a limited menu from which guests can be served efficiently so volume can be increased and prices can be lowered. It worked like magic, and in 1961 the McDonald’s enterprise was purchased for $2.7 million by American businessman Ray Kroc.
Green Bay is home to McDonald’s Restaurant No. 91, established circa 1959. Speedee has been at the location since it opened.
Green Bay Speedee’s single arch design dates back to a 1953 drawing created by Dick McDonald.
Speedee represented McDonald’s for only a few years, until he was unceremoniously dethroned in favor of a garish clown named Ronald, “born” in 1963.
In a community where most of the population (of approximately 125,000) is connected to family and friends going back many generations, tradition and nostalgia are paramount. Speedee’s presence today is a testimony to those sentiments. In fact, the restaurant is still operated by the family of Romaine Schanock, the original owner.
As other Speedees around the country met their demise, Green Bay’s Speedee stood strong (quite a feat considering the magnitude of the winters here at the home of the "frozen tundra"). To the best of my knowledge, only one other Speedee remains operating at its original location . . . in Muncie, Indiana. The Muncie Speedee still has the vertical neon lights between the bottom of the arch and the top of the McDonald’s logo. After the Green Bay sign was vandalized several times, a decision was made to not replace the vertical lights. The sign was restored in 2005.
In 2002, the Green Bay Historic Preservation Commission awarded Speedee an Historic Preservation Award as “Culturally Significant”.
Speedee is gorgeous whether you visit him during the day or at night. Me? I prefer to admire him in a neon glow. What about you?
The Green Bay McDonald’s Speedee sign is located on the southwest corner of the intersection of Shawano Avenue and Military Avenue, 1587 Shawano Avenue, Green Bay, Wisconsin 54303 (GPS coordinates: 44.530006,-88.06051).
- American Restaurant Magazine (September 1962, p. 27): The Most Important 60 Seconds In Your Entire Life
- greenbaypressgazette.com (Jan. 7, 2009): Green Bay golden arch is a survivor
- Plant Retro: Character of the Week: McDonald’s Speedee
- RoadsideArchitecture.com: McDonald’s Signs
- Wisconsin Historical Markers: McDonald’s Speedee Sign (circa 1959)