THEN AND NOW: How Burger King has changed through the years

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A Whopper from Burger King.

Katherine Frey/The Washington Post/Getty Images


Burger King is the second-largest fast-food burger chain in the world, and it isn’t for lack of trying.

Ever since the first Insta-Burger King opened its doors in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1953, the chain has been serving up signature flame-broiled burgers, milkshakes, and fries that have satisfied customers all over the globe.

We took a look back at how the chain has evolved over the years, from mascot and menu changes to restaurant redesigns.

Here’s how Burger King has changed since its beginnings in the 1950s.

The first Burger King restaurant opened in 1953. Back then, it was called Insta-Burger King.

Burger King

Insta-Burger King.


Burger King



Founded in Jacksonville, Florida, by Keith Kramer and Matthew Burns, the company was taken over in 1954 by David Edgerton and James McLamore. They decided to expand its locations.

In 1967, Burger King was purchased by the Pillsbury Company. At the time of the purchase, Burger King had 274 restaurants across the United States and was worth an estimated $18 million.

It was the second-largest fast-food chain in the country, behind McDonald’s.

Source: Britannica, Encyclopedia

Today, Burger King has ‎17,796 locations worldwide.

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A customer walks into a Burger King restaurant on August 24, 2010, in Chicago, Illinois.

Scott Olson/Getty Images


However, just like when Burger King first opened, the chain falls short of McDonald’s, which has more than 38,000 locations across the globe.

Burger King’s current logo has remained the same since its introduction in 1998.

Burger king sign

Burger King sign.

Scott Olson / Getty Images


The logo includes a similar motif of the red Burger King name sandwiched between two yellow buns but also features a blue swirl around it.

Burger King grew in popularity due to its quick-service model.

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Catherine Thomas, a crew member at Burger King 600 Broadway in New York City, in 1989.

Glen Martin/The Denver Post/Getty Images


Early stores made use of a device called an “Insta-Broiler.” The machine cooked burgers extremely quickly and was required to be used in all Burger King restaurants in the 1950s.

Source: Britannica, History of Branding

In 1957, Burger King released its signature burger — the Whopper — which is still around today.

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Burger King Whopper.

Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters


The Whopper was 37 cents compared to Burger King’s original burger, which cost 18 cents. The Whopper came with sauce, cheese, lettuce, pickles, and tomato, all piled on top of a larger patty.

Today, Burger King still broils and flame-grills its burgers.

Source: Encyclopedia

Pillsbury executive Norman Brinker brought great success to Burger King and notably started what’s now known as the “Burger Wars.”

burger king customers

Burger King introduces its new Big King hamburger, 1997.

James Leynse/Corbis/Getty Images


Brinker wanted Burger King to overcome its biggest competition, McDonald’s, in both sales and product quality. 

In the late 1970s, Brinker started what would come to be known as the “Burger Wars” when a Burger King ad called McDonald’s out by name and claimed that the chain’s burgers were smaller.

McDonald’s tried to sue the company, but sales began to take off.

Source: Forbes

From the 1960s to the 1980s, the Burger King mascot was a cartoon king. In 2004, Burger King revealed its new mascot, “The King.”

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Burger King’s mascot.

Evan Agostini/Getty Images


The mascot became known for his plastic, smiling head. The head was originally used in the 1970s as an inspiration for the drawn character. After it was restored, the head would become an iconic symbol for the brand.

The King appeared in his first commercial in 2004. In the ad, he woke up next to a man in bed before handing him a breakfast sandwich.

The character was pulled from Burger King ads in 2011 after complaints that the king was “creepy.”

“People want a reason to go back to Burger King … There are no plans to bring the King back anytime soon,” Alex Macedo, then senior vice president of marketing, told USA Today.

Source: Forbes

However, in 2015, the King was back on his throne.

burger king mascot

The Burger King mascot stands outside the stadium prior to the kickoff of Super Bowl XLII between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots in February 2008.

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images


Burger King reportedly paid $1 million for the King to appear as part of Floyd Mayweather’s entourage during his boxing match against Manny Pacquiao.

The conversation around Burger King increased 1,343% on May 3, the day of the fight, compared to the previous day, according to Adweek’s Lost Remote. However, publicity was largely negative due to the fact that Mayweather had pleaded guilty to domestic abuse charges and had spent time in jail.

Source: Business Insider, Adweek

Burger King has since focused its advertisements on showcasing its food’s high-quality ingredients with no preservatives added.

Burger King moldy whopper

Burger King’s “moldy burger” ad.

Courtesy of Burger King


This 2020 ad shows a Whopper decomposing and molding over a 28-day period, intending to show that Burger King food is “real” and free of artificial preservatives. The video has 2 million views as of March 4, 2020.

“At Burger King we believe that real food tastes better,” Fernando Machado, Restaurant Brands International’s chief marketing officer, said in the press release. “That’s why we are working hard to remove preservatives, colors, and flavors from artificial sources from the food we serve in all countries around the world.”

Source: Business Insider

In the 1980s, Burger King began to see a decline in sales.

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A Burger King employee serving a customer.

Anne-Christine Poujoulat / Getty Images


After Brinker left the company to start his own restaurant, sales declined. However, when Burger King made the switch from Pepsi-Cola products to Coca-Cola, sales began to rise.

Source: History of Branding

Burger King also attempted to attract new customers with a larger menu that included chicken and fish sandwiches.

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Fast-food employees at a Burger King in France, 1982.

John van Hasselt/Corbis/Getty Images


In 1979, former McDonald’s executive Donald N. Smith introduced the new menu items as well as signature burgers in a strategy to target older customers who were willing to spend a little more on quality food. The plan worked and sales rose by 15%.

Source: Encyclopedia

Since then, Burger King has continued to add new and exciting items to its menus.

burger king employee

Burger King employee Fabiola Duran prepares a low-carbohydrate version of the Whopper during the lunchtime rush in 2004.

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson


In 2004, the chain advertised a “low-carb” version of its Whopper, which meant taking away the bun.

In 1978, Smith began testing breakfast items.

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An ad for Burger King’s Croissan’wich.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


The chain originally ran into problems with its flame broilers. While they could easily cook burgers, it was harder for the broilers to cook breakfast items in the same way that a traditional grill could.

Source: Encyclopedia

The Croissan’wich was introduced in 1983 and French Toast sticks were released in 1985.

Burger King Breakfast Sandwich 5

Burger King Croissan’wich.

Hollis Johnson


Today’s Burger King breakfast menu includes waffle sandwiches, multiple kinds of croissant-based breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, biscuit sandwiches, hash browns, and breakfast burritos.

Source: Burger King

Some menu items that have come and gone over the years include Burger King’s Angus ‘Shroom and Swiss steak burger and its Italian chicken sandwich.

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Drive-thru menu at Burger King on November 4, 2005.

Gordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald/Getty Images


In 2005, Burger King launched its Angus ‘Shroom and Swiss steak burger. The Italian chicken sandwich was an iteration of the original chicken sandwich topped with cheese and tomato sauce.

Burger King brought back a similar chicken parm sandwich in 2017, but the item has since been removed from the menu.

Source: Fox News

In years past, the more meat the better.

angry whopper

Burger King’s “Angry Triple Whopper” with three beef patties, bacon, pepper jack cheese, jalapeno peppers, “Angry” onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and “Angry” sauce.

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images


Burger King now only has one triple-stacked burger, but fan favorites like the Angry Triple Whopper are remembered fondly by Burger King fans. Last year, the chain brought back the Angry Whopper for a limited time before removing it from the menu again.

Source: Brand Eating

In 2020, plant-based burgers are on the rise.

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Burger King Impossible Whopper.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images


Burger King’s Impossible Whopper was hugely successful for the chain. According to CNN, Burger King reported a 10% increase in sales following the launch of the Impossible Burger in 2019.

However, while the burger is plant-based, Burger King came under fire after a customer sued the company for serving the burger that’s not actually 100% vegan. Since the patties are cooked on the same grills as traditional meat burgers, they may come into contact with meat by-products. Burger King said it never advertised the burger as vegan or promised to cook them in a particular way.

Source: CNN, Business Insider

Burger King was the first fast-food restaurant chain to offer dining rooms.

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A young girl eating a bagel sandwich in Burger King fast-food restaurant in 1988.

Ted Kirk/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images


When Burger King added its plastic-furnished eating areas in the 1950s, its drive-through windows were gradually phased out. However, in 1975, the drive-through windows were reintroduced.

Source: Encyclopedia

Burger King ushered in the Internet age when it introduced its own version of an internet cafe in the late 1990s.

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People surf the web at a Burger King with internet access on November 17, 2000, in New York.

Chris Hondros/Newsmakers/Getty Images


One Burger King restaurant, located on Broadway in New York City, allowed customers to surf the web at one of 20 PC computers if they purchased a meal.

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