Ray Albert Kroc was born to parents of Czech origin, Rose Mary (Hrach) and Louis Kroc, in Oak Park, Illinois. His father was from the village Břasy near Pilsen (Plzeň), Bohemia (now the Czech Republic).
Kroc participated in World War I as a Red Cross ambulance driver, and lied about his age to begin serving at 15. Following World War I, Kroc explored a number of career options, including being a paper cup salesman, pianist and DJ on a local Oak Park radio station. He first put his restaurant knowledge to use as a traveling milkshake machine salesman. The machines that Kroc sold made five shakes at a time, increasing restaurant efficiency. It was in his role as a milkshake machine salesman that Kroc first became involved with McDonald’s. The McDonald brothers were clients who had purchased multiple mixers.
Grasping the franchising potential of McDonald’s, Kroc offered to work as a franchising agent for a cut of the profits. Ultimately, Kroc’s ambitions for the restaurants eclipsed those of the McDonald brothers. In 1955, Kroc became president of the McDonald’s Corporation. He bought out the owners entirely six years later. In 1977, after leading McDonald’s past archrival Burger King, Kroc reassigned himself to the role of senior chairman. He held this position until his death in 1984.
Kroc was included in Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century, and amassed a fortune during his lifetime. Kroc’s foundation supported research and treatment of alcoholism, diabetes, and other diseases. He established the Ronald McDonald House foundation and was a major donor to the Dartmouth Medical School.