15 May: On this day in history

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15 May 1718

London lawyer James Puckle is granted a patent for his ‘Defence Gun’, a rapid-fire weapon designed to protect ships from boarders.


15 May 1810

Retired admiral Sir Isaac Coffin patented his ‘perpetual oven’ to bake biscuits for the navy. It had an endless wire mesh belt perpetually running through the oven with the help of rollers. It has been described as a major contribution to the development of mechanised food production. Coffin had served in the American War of Independence and against revolutionary France and had survived two court-martials – one for insubordination and one for corruption.


15 May 1859

Birth in Paris of physicist Pierre Curie. In 1903 Curie, his wife Marie Curie and Henri Becquerel will be jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for their work in the field of radiation.


15 May 1911

The United States Supreme Court declared the Standard Oil Company to be an unreasonable monopoly and ordered that it should be divided into a number of competing firms.

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15 May 1940: The first McDonald’s opens in San Bernardino

Californians get a taste for fast food on the go and two brothers make their fortune

North E Street in San Bernardino, California doesn’t look like much: a bland, sun-baked stretch of west coast suburbia, lined with strip malls and drive-ins. But when you get to No 1398, you see it – a hamburger restaurant. Or rather, the hamburger restaurant, the first of 36,615 outlets of one of the world’s most famous brands.

The date was 15 May 1940. Europe was in flames, but in California the engine of economic recovery was beginning to roar after the ordeal of the Depression. In San Bernardino, part of the great sprawl stretching inland from Los Angeles, two brothers threw open the doors of their new fast food restaurant: McDonald’s Bar-B-Q.

Richard and Maurice McDonald had already opened a drive-in hot dog stand in nearby Arcadia. Now they opened up another outlet, this time specialising in barbecue.
There was nowhere to sit; you just drove up, placed your order from the simple 25-item menu at the counter, and then went off with your food. Speed was the whole point. This was the age of the automobile. What was more, this was southern California, where everybody – or almost everybody – had a car.

It was a resounding success. By 1948 the two brothers had streamlined the operation, cutting out much of the barbecue, changing the name to McDonald’s and specialising in hamburgers.

Five years later, the pair began looking for franchise partners, with the first new outlet opening in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1961 they cashed in, selling their stake to Ray Kroc for $2.7m. They could have held out for more. But, perhaps ironically, they weren’t greedy. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook


15 May 1957

Britain explodes its first H-Bomb above Christmas Island.

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Journal of Human Hypertension

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