Today is National Onion Day, and for a very brief time in the 1970s, the preeminent fast food chain on Earth thought the onion might be its pathway to bigger sales.

This is the story of McDonald’s Onion Nuggets.

While burgers have always been the signature item on the McDonald’s menu, the company has never been shy about trying stuff.

The main menu has, at times, included a McPizza, a pot pie and a burger-like sandwich with pineapple in the middle.

Certain parts of the world have their own special menu items, like poutine in Canadian McDonald’s, or a mashed potato burger in China.

Not all of it has worked, of course, but that’s the nature of trying things, you can’t know if something will work until you give it a go.

In the 1970s, McDonald’s boss Ray Kroc had hired acclaimed French chef Rene Arend to oversee the chain’s menu.

And Kroc had an idea for Arend: onion nuggets.

The idea wasn’t as out of left field as the name might make it sound.

Essentially Kroc wanted to take the popular fast food side of onion rings, and just smoosh them down so that they were bite size.

I mean, think of the many fast food menu items today that are basically bite size versions of something.

So the chef got to work on getting the breading and the seasoning and the taste and the texture just right so that onion nuggets would go well with the rest of McDonald’s offerings.

The chain put the new item on its menus in certain test markets in the late 1970s.

The ads read “Onion Nuggets: chunks of real onions deep fried to a golden crunch.”

And while some people absolutely loved them, they weren’t a big hit with most customers.

Again, you only find out what works when you try it.

The onion nuggets didn’t meet the company’s expectations.

But they did help bring about a product that resonated with customers.

This was a time when public health officials were talking more and more about the drawbacks of eating lots of red meat.

McDonald’s was looking to add something chicken-based to its menu to address those concerns.

Rene Arend took the bite-size breaded nugget and replaced the onion with chicken.

It wasn’t the first chicken nugget ever, but the McNugget would become the first chicken nugget a lot of people would ever try.

It was, and is, a giant success for McDonald’s… and the Onion Nugget probably deserves a bit of the credit.

Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry is hosting an exhibit that showcases the history of Mold-a-Rama.

The exhibit is very straightforward.

It shows off some of the best-known and most surprising plastic figurines from Mold-a-Rama machines in museums and zoos all over the place.

And when you plunk down some money you’ll get to take in that famous smell.

When McDonald’s Tried to Make Onion Nuggets Happen (Mental Floss)

Mold-A-Rama – Molded for the Future (MSI Chicago)

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