The surprising story behind McDonald's legendary Golden Arches

The famous McDonald’s golden arches are the most legendary corporate logo in the world today, being recognized by more people than the Christian cross.

But you probably don’t know the full story behind this simple-- and pretty perfect-- symbol for the ubiquitous chain.

McDonald’s first logo featured Speedee, a jaunty, pudgy, winking little chef with a hamburger for a head and a chef’s hat.

McDonald’s first logo featured Speedee, a jaunty, pudgy, winking little chef with a hamburger for a head and a chef’s hat. (McDonald's)

Most corporate logos are focus-grouped and field-tested, and go through rounds and rounds of trials before being rolled out. A logo needs to be immediately recognizable and needs to instantly evoke the company behind it, which is no easy feat.

The “Golden Arches” were originally two separate arches located on either side of the super-modern (at the time) buildings constructed by the founders of McDonald’s, Dick and Mac McDonald. All original McDonald’s locations had these arches on either side, and they were the brainchild of none other than Mac McDonald.

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Believe it or not, when the brothers were interviewing architects to design the first location in 1952, they were met with a fair amount of resistance.

Remember these slanted arches from the 1960s?

Remember these slanted arches from the 1960s? (McDonald's)

The first architect was adamantly against incorporating the arches into the design, the second wanted to change them too much, and the third didn’t want to be told what to do. In desperation, the brothers sketched out a rough approximation of what they were looking for – a building with a half-circle on either side – and brought it to an architect named Stanley Clark Meston, who streamlined the arches into tapered parabolas.

The design stuck, and the end result was revolutionary for the time.

When McDonald’s decided to do away with the design in the early 1960s, design head Jim Schindler took his inspiration from those already-famous arches to design the earliest version of the company’s logo (below): an abstract view of a McDonald’s location from an angle, with the two arches lined up to form an “M” and the roof bisecting it.

Over the years, Schindler's "M" logo morphed into the design, pretty much everyone in the world recognizes today.

SLIDESHOW: McDonald's logos through the years