The creator of the Big Mac, one of the most popular fast foods in the world, has died aged 98. Jim Delligatti was a McDonald’s franchisee who came up with the idea in 1967 because he said customers wanted a bigger sandwich.
His invention was almost rejected by McDonald’s, which was happy that its traditional meals – a hamburger, fries and a milkshake – were selling well. The firm relented, but while it says it has since sold billions of the sandwiches, it admits Delligatti never received a penny in royalties.
The McDonald’s franchisee, whose full name was Michael James Delligatti, invented the burger while running his restaurant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was later said to have eaten at least one Big Mac every week for decades.
“I would never have dreamed that my creation would turn into a piece of Americana,” the company quoted Delligatti as saying.
Delligatti told the Associated Press in 2006 that his idea almost never got off the ground. “[McDonald’s] figured, why go to something else if [the original menu] was working so well?”
When the burger turned 40, McDonald’s estimated it was selling 550m Big Macs a year. The company has said it did not pay Delligatti royalties for it but declined to say why when asked by the Guardian.
In a 2005 interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, since removed from its site but still available in online archives, Delligatti joked that he received a “dollar apiece” on the global sales, before telling his interviewer: “No, honey. I don’t get anything. I’d love to have a tenth of a cent.”
His son, also named Michael, told AP his father was often asked why he named it the Big Mac, and he said it was because “Big Mc sounded too funny”.
In a statement released through McDonald’s, Delligatti’s family said he was a “spirited and generous philanthropist” who helped refugee families get treatment for their children. He also supported various other charities. During the second world war, Delligatti served as a sergeant in the US army in Europe.
McDonald’s paid tribute to Delligatti, calling him a “legendary franchisee” who made a “lasting impression”.
Delligatti died at his Pittsburgh home on Monday, his family said. In addition to his two sons, he is survived by his wife, Ellie, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
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