Some trace the modern history of fast food in America to July 7, 1912, with the opening of a fast food restaurant called the Automat in New York. Some historians and secondary school textbooks concur that A&W, which opened in 1919 and began franchising in 1921, was the first fast food restaurant. Others associate the term with the McDonald brothers, Richard and Maurice, who opened a barbecue drive-in in 1940 in San Bernardino, California.

After discovering that most of their profits came from hamburgers, the McDonald brothers closed their restaurant for three months and reopened it in 1948 as a walk-up stand offering a simple menu of hamburgers, french fries, shakes, coffee, and Coca-Cola, served in disposable paper wrapping. As a result, they could produce hamburgers and fries constantly, without waiting for customer orders, and could serve them immediately; hamburgers cost 15 cents, about half the price at a typical diner. Their streamlined production method, which they named the “Speedee Service System” was influenced by the production line innovations of Henry Ford.

3562 Broadway Avenue opened as a Milligan’s Beefy Burgers location in 1958. Since 1975, it has served as the location of family owned and operated Edgewood Sandwich Shop. (Courtesy of Mike Field)

Nevertheless, for burgers in Jacksonville, long before artery clogging fast food chains took over Blanding, Atlantic, and Beach Boulevards, there was Milligan’s Beefy Burgers. Many long time Jaxsons viewed Milligan’s as our own home grown version of “Krystal” and “White Castle.” Founded October 24, 1932, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Krystal was known as the first hamburger chain in the South.

The story of Florida’s first fast food drive through hamburger chain was founded by Elmer B. and Dorothy Hair Milligan in Starke, FL in 1942. During their first year of business, Milligan’s served over 450,000 beefy burgers.

While California’s In-N-Out Burger was in the process of beginning drive-through service utilizing call-box technology in 1948, Elmer Milligan was bringing his beefy burgers to Jacksonville. By 1950, he was operating two restaurants in town; Milligan’s Grill at 18 East 8th Street in Springfield and Milligan’s Hamburger Hut at 207 West Forsyth Street in downtown. Firmly established in Jacksonville, the Milligans settled into a Lake Shore residence at 1704 Lake Shore Boulevard with their children, Richard, John, Virginia, Elizabeth, and JoAnn.

Milligan’s opened its 9303 Lem Turner Road location in 1962. Jack’s Sandwich Shop has operated out of this location for more than 20 years. (Courtesy of Mike Field)

Inspired by the success of the original McDonald’s restaurant, Jacksonville residents Keith Kramer and Matthew Burns started Insta-Burger King. By the time Insta-Burger King started churning out whoppers in 1954, Milligan’s had already expanded with multiple Jacksonville locations serving their mouth watering cuisine. A sign of the times, Milligan’s new locations took them into rapidly growing suburbs of Jacksonville’s Westside. There, Elmer Milligan opened restaurants at 2441 West Beaver Street and 1020 Cassat Avenue, in addition to three operating in downtown and Springfield. By 1964, Milligan’s Beefy Burgers had expanded to 16 location serving over five million burgers annually. At the time, a sackful (aka a dozen) of beefy burgers could be had for $1.00. At the chain’s height, beefy burger restaurants were located in Jacksonville, Green Cove Springs, Fernandina Beach, Orlando, and St. Petersburg.

In 1966, the burger chain developed the Milligan’s Center shopping plaza around its Lem Turner Road drive in. Like the drive through, remnants of Florida’s first drive through fast food hamburger chain still survive on the property today. (Courtesy of Mike Field)