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The McDonald’s restaurant chain introduced Happy Meals across the United States in the summer of 1979. Since that time, these prepackaged meals paired with a toy, delivered in a colorful cardboard tote, and primarily promoted to children have become synonymous with McDonald’s cuisine throughout the world. While the marketing and selling of Happy Meals have led to many innovations in the fast-food industry, Happy Meals have also been a source of controversy, especially with respect to evolving social views about gender and the rising rates of obesity in the United States and other countries. Even so, Happy Meals continue to hold iconic status in Western culture, and their impact on fast-food branding and merchandizing has been far-reaching.

The roots of McDonald’s Happy Meals are humble. Test-marketed ...

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