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McDonald's Innovator Dies at 89

Herb Peterson Created Egg McMuffin and Ronald McDonald

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Herb Peterson, the former Chicago adman who invented the Egg McMuffin, has died. He was 89.
Herb Peterson and a set of Teflon rings had had made to test the sandwich that became known as the Egg McMuffin.
Herb Peterson and a set of Teflon rings had had made to test the sandwich that became known as the Egg McMuffin.

Mr. Peterson worked on the McDonald's account at D'Arcy Advertising in the early 1960s. He is credited with creating the Ronald McDonald character and the slogan "Where Quality Starts Fresh Every Day."

"Herb Peterson's passion for people and relentless commitment to McDonald's is legendary," said Don Thompson, president of McDonald's USA. "All of us who knew and worked with Herb will miss the enthusiasm and dedication that made him much more than a business associate, but a true friend and colleague."

Created first campaign
While at D'Arcy, Mr. Peterson became close friends with Ray Kroc, who bought the burger chain from the McDonald brothers in 1955, when it still had two stores. Mr. Peterson put together the Golden Arches' first national campaign.

Mr. Peterson later jumped at the chance to buy a franchise from his friend in 1968, and, with the help of his son, David Peterson, eventually grew the business to six stores.

"He was sort of magical," David Peterson said. "Up until six months ago he'd be in the stores in the morning, and you'd better be sure your English muffins were toasted. He'd sit and drink his coffee, and people would go and talk to him just like he was the Pied Piper."

David Peterson said his father was also the first franchisee to hire women. (McDonald's wasn't immediately able to verify this information.)

Breakfast classic reborn
The McMuffin was born in 1971, out of a desire to boost business when stores opened, then at 11 a.m. Mr. Peterson was a huge fan of eggs Benedict and was looking to make a handheld version. He commissioned a set of Teflon rings from a local blacksmith and began testing the egg sandwiches in his store.

"That was an exciting time," David Peterson said. "My dad loved to tell the story of the freezing cold day in February he went to Chicago to make it for Ray Kroc and [President] Fred Turner." His father wanted to call it the "fast break sandwich," he said, but the name was already owned by another party.

The Egg McMuffin, launched nationally in 1973, became the anchor of McDonald's breakfast rollout. Breakfast now accounts for nearly 30% of the company's U.S. sales.

Involved citizen
Herb Peterson was a major in the Marine Corps during three years of service in World War II. He was very devoted to his adopted community of Santa Barbara, Calif., and worked with Mr. Kroc to buy a pair of elephants for the local zoo.

"My dad and Ray walked through the zoo once a year to see their elephants," David Peterson said.

Herb Peterson leaves behind his wife, Barbara, his son, and three daughters.
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