Vintage McDonalds Stuff – Mike Matei Blog

As you can tell by this blog already, nostalgia is largely my identity. And one part of that is my love of everything that is vintage McDonalds.

One thing not a lot of people seem to remember much are McDonalds Gift Certificates for kids. This is the only image I could find online of them. It’s a Halloween themed one, but they had booklets for the entire year. If anyone is able to find any images of more of these I’d love to see them. Basically, the idea was that adults could give these out to kids so that they could get something to eat on their own. I believe the first time I ever ordered food at a restaurant by myself was with using one of these certificates. These ones are from 1976 but the ones I would have had were probably from around 1987.

Another thing I remember loving were the McDonaldland Cookies. Obviously, they were really appealing to look at because the boxes were colorful and had all the characters on them like Grimace, Birdie, the Fy Guys and the Hamburglar. These boxes had the regular cookies in them, which were pretty good. It also made me think McDonaldland might be connected to Oz because they are walking on a yellow brick road. I wonder if that was intentional.

Those cookies were for the kiddies. The ADULT cookies were the “Chocolaty Chip” Cookies.  I remember these tasting better by far. It was always a hard decision which I should get. I wanted the character boxes, because I needed to get a complete set. But I knew the Chocolaty Chip cookies tasted better. What a dilemma! My sister always went with the Chocolatys and I would usually get the character box. I’m such a sucker for cartoon merchandising, it’s quite sad.

Those of you who are old enough to remember know that McDonalds used to have all their food in styrofoam containers. I think it was sometime in the 90s when McDonalds started to become more conscious of the environment. They started installing recycling bins and began phasing out those evil styrofoam boxes. I know it’s bad for the environment, but the food tasted better in styrofoam, sorry. That said, I am glad to give it up if it’s good for the environment. The styrofoam isn’t biodegradable and its hard to recycle so it really isn’t a good idea at all. Strangely, it seems that McDonalds actually recently brought back the foam cups. The evil devil on my shoulder is happy about this because the food is much tastier when served this way, but the good angel on my shoulder says it’s better to get rid of them for good.

Another thing that made the styrofoam better besides the taste was the shape of the containers. With the McNuggets there used to be a special slot in the tray to put your sauce of choice for dipping. Sure, you can always dip it directly into the sauce container, but you haven’t lived until you’ve tried it this way! Especially good for storing honey, which I believe only comes in packets.

Another thing that’s long gone, or should I say updated, are the McDonalds playgrounds. Sure you can still find ballpits at modern McDonalds sometimes, but you haven’t lived until you’ve been nearly trapped inside a Big Mac® death cell.

I was never really scare of clowns. I know thats a big trend now, but even as a kid watching Steven Kings IT on television, clowns were just not scary to me. Ronald McDonald was probably creepier to me than the clown from it, but no clowns scared me. What DID scare me was being trapped inside the Big Mac climb-in jail cell. It didn’t scare me at first, from the outside I thought it looked cool. But after I went into it, I just wanted to get out. Remember, this thing was outside and had to contend with whatever weather conditions were going on that day. When I went in it, the metal bars were freezing cold, pressed up against your arms, it was anything but fun. Not only that, it was shaped like a circle, and it made it very awkward to move around. There was very little space to maneuver yourself. It was the opposite of fun, it was a nightmare.

In 1985 I had my fifth birthday party at McDonalds with my family and friends. At that point in time, it was my favorite place to eat. (Long before I grew out of eating fast food.) It’s funny, the way I remember birthdays as a kid largely revolves around what present I got. What a brat! The year prior in 1984 I got Snake Mountain from Masters of the Universe. But it was here at McDonalds that I got what had to be my favorite playset of all time… Cat’s Lair from Thundercats!

The other thing I remember vividly from the party was that after an intense game of “ringtoss” I was led over near the front window where they had a giant talking tree. I sat by the tree and this creepy voice came out and made me very uncomfortable. Even at that age, I knew it wasn’t actually the tree talking to me. I was more creeped out by the fact that I didn’t know who the person was that I was talking to. Some random employee on a speaker phone telling me knock knock jokes is enough to make anyone uncomfortable.

I can’t do a blog about McDonalds and not mention Happy Meals. First and foremost I guess I need to mention the Super Mario Bros Happy Meal set. It came out in 1990, the same year as the game itself. Super Mario Bros 3 was the biggest release of a video game I can remember at that point in time. There was advertising for it everywhere. I especially remember the commercial for it where everyone on earth formed an image of Mario’s face. Mario ruled the world, and our Happy Meals.

I remember playing with the Racoon Mario spring activated toy the most out of these. The suction worked fairly well and Mario would pop up and fly through the air. The Luigi toy just moved around like a little wind up car. The Goomba just popped up, probably the worst of the bunch. And the Paratroopa had an air powered hose that made his legs move so he could bounce around a tabletop. This really makes me wish they did a Legend of Zelda line of Happy Meal figures back then but it never happened.

Another one of the best toys McDonalds ever did were Changeables. Basically fast food versions of Transformers. Every kid needs to own an Egg McMuffin Robot, don’t you think?

Another thing I’ve always had a fondness for is vintage promotional glasses. And McDonalds was a primary source for these collectables. They had a whole line of McDonaldland character glasses with Ronald, Grimace and the whole gang. But they also did other glasses like Garfield and other licensed characters. Now this is a subject I’m sure I will eventually come back to because I collect these kinds of glasses so more on that subject later if anyone is interested.

One of McDonald’s strangest but memorable promotional stunts happened in 1988. They started a contest that took “flexi-disc” vinyl records, stuck them into newspapers and released the $1,000,000 Menu Song.

Each record contained a recording of a pretty lousy chorus attempting to sing its way through the entire menu. If the singers on YOUR record could make it all the way through the song without screwing up, the disc was a winner!

As a kid, I didn’t understand the rules and I thought that I was supposed to sing the song, record myself doing it and send them a copy of my recording! I have to wonder if buried somewhere deep within the depths of the McDonalds archives is a cassette tape of an eight year old Mike Matei awkwardly belting out his best “Big Mac, Mc DLT, a Quarter-Pounder with some cheese…”


32 thoughts on “Vintage McDonalds Stuff – Mike Matei Blog”

  1. My sister and I were going thru some old stuff and found boxes of McDonald’s toys!! I loved the Transforming meal items and all the Mario sets of toys.

    1. I remember mcdonalds having these Flintstones video games and jetsons wasn’t an actual console though more of a click adventure arcade

  2. The McDonald’s in my area had Nintendo GameCube a set up in the play area, we could play demos of Sonic, Pikmin, and a few other titles.

  3. I remember back in the early ’80s when they had the Happy Meal promotions where the food came in the plastic boats! I loved that one. Also, the Halloween candy buckets.

    I also still have that hamburger Transformer floating around and even have a few of the drinkin glasses.

  4. McDonald’s was always mythical to me as a kid. In my (small) town, it was really the only fast food place around, and the only place with a drive-thru. Me and my brother used to be our dad to take us, and our cousin user to go every Sunday! I was jealous, haha. She got a lot of their Spongebob and Sonic toys. We did go every now and then, and it was like holy ground. Now it’s more common, obviously as adults we can go whenever we want, but… it’s not quite as magical now.

    Seeing this made me feel some real pangs of nostalgia. Good read! Thanks for posting x

  5. You hit on my favorite notes all day n this blog. First the gift certificates; as kids we called our hem McDonalds food stamps & would even ask the employees if they took McDonalds food stamps, because we were awful.
    Next the McChangables. Those were awesome. Not the latter on s that turned into dinosaurs & shit but the original robot guys. I collect Transformers & I have those in my collection standing proudly with my Autobots & Decepticons.
    Last one he glasses. Al aye loved them. Other features Anchises had them beat with Star Wars & Star Trek movie tie in collector sets but when that 3rd original Batman film cam out in the 90s those glass coffee mugs were awesome. I still have the Riddler one where his question mark staff pops away to become the handle. Great blog btw I’ll follow along now. Never heard you mention it w James or on a Cinimasacer thing just saw this on Twitter.

    1. Yeah I have the Star Trek promotional glasses. Love those. I just started the blog. If people actually visit this blog and comment here I’ll be more inclined to continue it. So we’ll see how it goes. Thanks a lot for reading!

  6. I still have my $1,000,000 record but it hasn’t been played since the day I got it…. guess I should double check it and see if I was an unknown millionaire.

  7. I remember that the McDonald’s near my house had a donkey Kong arcade machine, that was the first time I’ve play a video game. And I would just go over there with my mom and just play the game and not get any McDonald’s. eventually my mom got me a GameBoy and donkey kong for my birthday. So I really wouldn’t be in to games if McDonalds didn’t have that arcade machine

  8. There were McDonald’s where I grew up (Qc, Canada) that actually had, for a while in the nineties, all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets. You could get hash browns, pancakes, sausage or ham pucks, eggs, bacon, and the apple pies maybe. The syrup wasn’t genuine maple syrup, but we liked it anyway. We would go on Sunday mornings. I’m curious as to whether people remember these buffets or whether they even had them around elsewhere? They had the food set up on trays on a table at the front of the restaurant.

    Mike, I know, is not big on sports memorabilia, but we also used to get the McDonald’s Upper Deck hockey cards. In the early nineties, the cards showcased players selected for the all-stars in their all-star jerseys. In the late nineties, they came out with the Ice hockey cards, that were made of plastic and were partly see-through. At some point, in the nineties as well, McDonald’s struck up a deal with Pinnacle, and they released a set of “3D Hologram” cards, some of which showed the players in motion when the cards were tilted at various angles. All of these were quality hockey cards and we used to collect and to trade them.

  9. One of my earliest and fondest Happy Meal memories was getting the UFO packaging.
    The McNugget buddies always got a lot of play time from me, but those Muppet Babies Happy Meal toys, I hunted for all them.
    I still have my SMB 3 Spring Mario! That’s boxes themselves then we’re awesome and interactive with those cut outs and games on them.
    The toys back then didn’t feel as cheap or as much of a plastic hunk of plastic. They felt like something I’d have paid for if I wasn’t a kid begging his parents for Happy Meals. ?

  10. Ok. So when I was about 3-4 I had a traumatic experience that left me extremely picky about food. Which means I didn’t eat all the things that kids eat growing up (e.g. pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, etc) So, fast forward to about when I was 10, and McD’s had Pizza Kid’s Meals. That pizza is the ONE thing that got me to breakthrough on my pickiness on food. It was soo good with the garlic in the crust. I wish they would bring it back.

  11. The SMB3 Happy Meal was my absolute favorite one. I was a bit mad that they gave Luigi that boring Cloud while they gave Mario 2 toys in his likeness. But that was the first showing us early that Luigi was being moved to the back burner.

  12. Great blog. Sure brings back some memories. I don’t know if it was an event or just a false memory, but I vaguely recall there being a real live Ronald Mcdonald at my local Mcdonalds in Hartsdale, NY. Maybe even other characters in suits. Its possible they were just statues and my small active mind imagined them as real.

    Nowadays it seems like McDonalds is trying to rebrand itself as this cool hip modern place. Maybe they should think about going retro.

  13. I actually still have all my old Changeables from when I was a kid. This whole blog was nostalgic as hell. Good one, Mike!

  14. I always liked sitting at that tree table as a kid. It made me feel special that there was somewhere to sit just for the kids. Even if the tree looked a bit creepy.

  15. I have lots of memories of McDonalds, many of which are similar to yours, Mike. I remember the playground with Mayor McCheese’s wide open mouth and the laughing Apple Pie tree with the seats around it, and I also had multiple copies of the 1,000,000 dollar Menu Song flexi-discs (I got all my neighbors to give me theirs since they didn’t have a turntable and I was practically the only one on my block that hadn’t quite converted to CDs) and none of them were winners. Like you, I thought I had to memorize the song, but I was under the impression that I had to go into the restaurant and sing it to the cashier, so I memorized it. Still remember all the words to this day.

    My fondest memory of McDonalds was during the Olympics of 1984, where they gave out stacks of those scratcher cards, and if the U.S.A. got a gold medal in the event revealed, you got free food. Since the U.S.A. got a lot of gold medals that year, that was a ton of free food from McDonalds!

    It was during this time that my favorite mascot of all time wasn’t Ronald McDonald, nor Grimace, nor Birdy or the McNuggets, or even the Fry Guys…it was Sam the Eagle, the official mascot of the 1984 Olympics, and McDonalds featured the hell out of him! I used to have a ballcap with the mascot depicted on it with the McDonalds golden arches at his foot.

    I long since lost the hat, but I’m always on the search for another one. Of course I had to get the commemorative glasses as well.

    Going to McDonalds in the 80s always meant that I was going to have a great visit with my dad whenever he took me around to different places. We always stopped off at McDonalds for some cheeseburgers, chocolate shakes, and of course…the amazing “hot stays hot and cool stays cool” McDLT sandwiches!!!

    Anyway, these are just a few of my own memories of nostalgic McDonalds. I hope you enjoyed my walk back into the past. Keep hangin’ onto those memories, for it’s the only thing left that’ll keep us all sane. 😀

  16. I remember when my brother and I were little, our dad (May he Rest In Peace) bought us McDonalds and we’d go home and watch “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”. Definitely fond memories.

  17. DUDE. The Halloween Mc Nugget Toys and the jack o lantern buckets are the BIGGEST nostalgia trip for me. Also, having birthday parties at McDonalds!

  18. We had the jail cell too, but our Playground was indoors and in a kind of sunken pit that you could either take a slide to get into or walk down the stairs. I can remember a lot of birthday parties there. Never my own, my parents couldn’t afford it.

    The gift certificates I remember came in little booklets, kinda like those discount coupon books kids used to sell door to door. I can actually remember getting Mcdonalds gift certificate booklets for Christmas in Christmas cards instead of money.

    I can remember when happy Meals first started. Most of the toys were garbage, the best was whenever Hot Wheels had a promotion. I had a handful of McDonalds hot wheels cars.

  19. I was nearly trapped in the Big Mac death cell cause I wanted to go up in it when I was really too big. My favorite memory was getting actual Legos in the happy meal …

  20. I remember the UFO happy meals where your food came in a plastic UFO. I also loved the transforming robot toys.

  21. In the early to mid 1980s, my local McDonalds exclusively played Muzak through their sound system. For those who are too young to remember, Muzak was often shitty jazzy-orchestral versions of popular radio songs. Most people associate Muzak with elevators (hence the common nickname Elevator Music), but Muzak always reminds me of McDonalds.

  22. Freddy Krueger killed me and my friends in the pkay ground part of McDs. What I remember vividly was that was the day they released Blueberry shakes!

  23. Besides the toys, the commercials and the food growing up there’s one memory that’s personal.

    I graduated high school in 2004 and in very late August of that year me and friend stopped by the McDonalds we used to go to. While he was inside getting the food (no drive thru, the bastards) I was looking at the sun setting, listening to the Terminator theme (mix cds, gotta love em) and realizing a week later school would be starting but not for us. Thats when I knew my entire life was about to change. Nothing to do with McDonald’s per se but I just happened to be there when I realized “Oh shit, im not a kid anymore.”

  24. Man, I missed out on a lot of cool McDonalds stuff. At least I have the pleasure of learning about it now.

    I think there’s a McDonalds in Orlando with all this old memorabilia and stuff from McDonlads’ past. I have to check it out some time.

    I need to get some of those McDonald Land glasses for myself! Thanks for the extremely interesting blog Mike!

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