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History alum applies skills as McDonald’s archivist

Mike Bullington

Mike Bullington ’84, M.S. ’89, is the archivist for McDonald’s Corp. His job is to document the history of the brand and to support current and future business owners.

Bullington came to Illinois State to become a history teacher, but an internship and an independent study at the McLean County Museum of History ignited his passion for archival work. He still remembers working with Greg Koos, executive director of the museum, on a World War II war bonds collection and Illinois Central Railroad employee records. Koos praised Bullington’s enthusiasm for learning and his deep understanding that history can be preserved though archival practices and fine research skills.

Bullington’s master’s thesis was “A History of Stout’s Grove and Danvers, Illinois 1825–1886,” written under the direction of Distinguished Professor Mark Wyman, and Professors Paul Holsinger and Jo Ann Rayfield.

“He was a pleasure to work with—he wrote well, met deadlines and accepted my critique,” Wyman said. These skills translated well when he worked on the massive McDonald’s archives—a bit larger than researching and writing about Danvers, but using many of the same skills.

After graduating with his master’s degree in history, Bullington worked as archivist for Kraft Foods and Rush Medical Center before he accepted the job with McDonald’s eight years ago.

As the corporate archivist at McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Bullington oversees a temperature-controlled archive room filled with a vast array of McDonald’s memorabilia, including every toy ever put in a Happy Meal, original packaging, and images of the first red and white restaurants. He thinks that the most interesting items are the original logbooks from the opening day at Ray Croc’s first store in Des Plaines. These logs include Croc’s notes on the weather for the day (cold and rainy) and the total sales ($366.12). When that store opened in 1955, customers could buy a burger, fries, and a shake for 50 cents.

Bullington explained that one of the things he likes about his job is that there is no typical day. One day, he helped the marketing team with a request for retro packaging replicas for a movie being shot that was set in 2000. Another day, he helped an owner/operator prepare for a 50-year celebration by locating articles about when the store opened. He also loaned the store original uniforms for the crew to wear. To honor these requests, he does research and often goes into the collection to find answers.

He also gets to travel in his job. Every two years the corporation hosts a worldwide convention in Orlando, Florida, and he sets up a display booth and shares memorabilia with convention participants. Two years ago he was part of a delegation that traveled to China for 15 days where he helped licensees in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore appraise records and create their own archives.

Bullington is married and the father of four. His youngest child is adopted from China. The day of the adoption he suggested that their first meal as a family should be at a Chinese restaurant. His wife, however, said, “No, we need to go to McDonald’s.” Certainly, Bullington did not envision this interesting career when he arrived at Illinois State to become a teacher. Based on his own experience, Bullington advises students not to “be afraid to try new things, to change course.”