International symbols for successful brands don't change a lot, but they do change. The point of a fast food logo is to make a known brand recognizable at a distance for those who are new to the neighborhood. Here are the histories of some restaurant logos you'll recognize anywhere.
Dick and Mac McDonald made a good living selling 15 cent hamburgers in California in the 1940s. They began to branch out in the 1950s, and wanted a distinctive look for the franchised hamburger stands. A building design by architect Stanley Clark Meston incorporated several of Dick McDonald's ideas, including the two golden arches that framed the building. Meston hated the idea, until years later when McDonalds became an American icon. The first such building went up in Phoenix, Arizona in 1953. Many buildings also used one golden arch to support the sign out front. As more McDonalds opened, the arches became recognizable to travelers all over the country. Meanwhile, the McDonald's symbol was a chef named SpeeDee until he was officially replaced as a logo in 1962 and as mascot by Ronald McDonald in 1967. Speedee was nice, but it was the arches that everyone recognized. In 1962 Jim Schindler, the head of engineering and design for the company, sketched a logo that incorporated both the arches and the buildings' slanted roof. The genius of the design was that the arches formed an "M". The simplified modern double arch design was trademarked in 1968 and is still in use today.
The Burger King chain began in 1954 in Miami as an Insta Burger King outlet. James McLamore and David R. Edgerton, Jr. changed some Insta Burger King ideas and added some of their own, such as the flame-broiling that became Burger King's signature technique. The logo was developed in 1967 to resemble a hamburger, with bun halves surrounding the name. It was in use chain-wide by 1969. The design was updated in 1994 to add a blue swirl to the now slightly-tilted burger.
Kentucky Fried Chicken has always included its founder Colonel Harland Sanders in its logo. Sanders was a restauranteur since 1930 and franchised his chicken recipe in 1952. The original logo design was created by consultants Lippincott and Margulies in 1952 and updated in 1978. Schechter and Luth created the red logo in 1991, with the chain name shortened in order to get away from the connotations of the word "fried". The 1997 update by Landor put a smile on the Colonel's face. Tesser redrew the Colonel again for the 2006 logo, which put the Colonel in the kitchen, so to speak, as he is now wearing an apron. He's also noticeably slimmer than he ever was in real life.
Glen Bell opened the first Taco Bell restaurant in 1962 as a spin-off of his Taco-Tia restaurants in California. The first franchise logo resembled someone asleep wearing a sombrero. PepsiCo bought Taco Bell in 1978 and immediately replaced the logo with a simpler and less controversial bell symbol. The even simpler purple and pink logo was introduced in 1995, inspired by the color treatment of the logo as it appeared in the 1993 movie Demolition Man. See also: The Stories Behind Ten Famous Food Logos, Evolution of Car Logos, and The Evolution of Tech Companies' Logos.