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The McDonalds Happy Meal Was Invented By A Latina And Here’s How It Got Started

Did you know that the first ever Happy Meal was created by a Latina? That’s right, in the mid-70s when Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño was operating various McDonalds in Guatemala, she invented what she dubbed the “Menu Ronald”. The “Menu Ronald”  was invented to help parents keep their kids satisfied when the family went out to eat. The original “Menu Ronald” included a hamburger, small fries and a small sundae. Naturally, word eventually got back to McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago they decided to adopt the practice as their own. They hired a white American man to develop the idea (and subsequently take credit for it) and voila! The Happy Meal was born.

It’s unfortunate that Fernández de Cofiño’s recognition has been lost to the American public, but it’s still inspiring to know that there were business-minded Latinx people in history whose achievements still impact our lives today. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’ve decided to celebrate the underrated Latina entrepreneur Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño for the marketing genius that she was. We’ve documented the evolution of Happy Meal toys from the idea’s inception and launch in the 1970s, to its continuing legacy today.

Take a look below for a nostalgic blast from the past!

1. 1979: The Very First Happy Meal

via Pinterest

Although the original concept of the Happy Meal was invented by Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño, the first official launch of the American Happy Meal happened in 1979. However, the gift wasn’t half as elaborate as it was now. According to records the toys were “a McDoodle stencil, a McWrist wallet, an ID bracelet, a puzzle lock, a spinning top or a McDonaldland character-shaped eraser”.

2. 1984: Ronald and The Gang

 thegoodtoyshop via Ebay

McDonalds Happy Meal toys evolved from spinning tops and erasers to more complex toys. Like, the above “Ronald and the Gang” wind-up cars that were defitenly a step-up from McDonald’s earlier toys. They weren’t as sophisticated as the toys would eventually get, though.

3. 1987: Mc-Transformers

Reddit User gnarrdan

The Transformers/McDonalds mashup was innovative in its day because it was blending the IP of two successful brands. Instead of McDonald’s using its Happy Meal to market other products, it was using its Happy Meal to market other products that were marketing McDonalds. It was a win-win situation.

4. 1988: McNuggets Buddies

EBAY USER MCJANTONE

In 1988, McDonalds hadn’t yet started to do marketing tie-ins with kids’ movies. Instead, they had prizes like “McNuggets Buddies”, which were chicken nuggets dressed in various outfits and costumes. This lasted until the mid-90s.

5. 1994: Sonic the Hedgehog

@NascaronReddit/Twitter

By the mid-90s, the powers-that-be recognized that there was a lucrative market to tap by using Happy Meals to advertise kid-oriented products directly to kids. It was around this time that the entertainment industry really began to see the potential for promoting movies and TV shows through fast-food chains. And if you look at the advertisement above, the Happy Meal only cost $1.99. Those were the days!

6. 1996: 101 Dalmatians

EBAY USER KINGDADDY50

Never the one to pass up an opportunity to advertise, Disney quickly hopped on board the McDonalds train as a means to promote their movies. One of the first Disney x Mcdonald’s ventures were the release of literally one-hundred-and-one collectible dalmatian figurines through their Happy Meals.

7. 1997: “Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection”

Youtube via FastFoodToyReviews

Off the success of their 101 Dalmatians toys, Disney and McDonalds continued their partnership by releasing tiny VHS boxes equipped with a a little toy character from the movie. People really began to see collecting fast food toys as a hobby around this time.

8. Mid-90s: “Teenie Babies”

EBAY User BDK84

Even McDonalds wasn’t immune to the Beanie Baby craze that swept the nation in the mid-90s. Convinced that they would one day be worth thousands, collectors flocked to the Golden Arches to get their hands on miniature versions of the popular plush toys. Unfortunately, most of the “Teenie Baby” toys aren’t worth anything these days.

9. 1997-Now: Barbies

EBAY User PERFECTSHIP

In 1997, McDonald’s started a lucrative partnership with the Barbie line of toys that would last until today. What young girl doesn’t have memories of getting this in their Happy Meal box (whether they liked it or not) while their brother got a Hot Wheels car? It’s safe to say the ’90s weren’t progressive, gender-wise.

10. 2004: Hello Kitty Keychains

Youtube via Lucky Penny Shop

Into the 2000s, McDonald’s took advantage of the Hello Kitty trend by offering plush Hello Kitty key chains in their Happy Meals.

11. 2015: Minion Fever

Ebay user BOB_THE_SPY

Do you remember the time when you couldn’t escape “Despicable Me” minion merchandising, no matter where you went? Well, that included McDonalds. Nowhere was safe.

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