Jim Delligatti, Who Invented the Big Mac, Dies at Age 98

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By James R. Hagerty

As a McDonald's Corp. franchisee in the Pittsburgh area, Jim Delligatti in the mid-1960s believed the burgers-and- fries menu needed something jazzier. He came up with the Big Mac, tested it in one of his restaurants and saw it swiftly become a national sensation, heralding an era of ever-increasing reliance on novelty in fast food.

Mr. Delligatti died Monday at his home in Fox Chapel, a suburb of Pittsburgh, his family said. He was 98 years old.

Mr. Delligatti acknowledged that the Big Mac was derived from double-deck hamburgers made popular by rival fast- food restaurants. "This wasn't like discovering the lightbulb," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1993. "The bulb was already there. All I did was screw it in the socket." Even so, his initiative helped launch McDonald's on a long-running diversification of a menu once limited to little more than basic hamburgers, fries, shakes and soft drinks.

In recent years, the Big Mac's appeal has faded as McDonald's has struggled to find ways to entice customers back from rivals whose food is widely seen as fresher, healthier and hipper. The Big Mac "has gotten less relevant," a top McDonald's franchisee wrote in a memo to other operators in July. Only one in five millennials has tried a Big Mac, the memo said.

Michael James Delligatti was born Aug. 2, 1918, in Uniontown, about 45 miles south of Pittsburgh. He attended school in Uniontown and Fairmont, W.Va., and served in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II.

In 1953, he and a partner opened Delney's Drive-In Restaurant in Pittsburgh. Two years later, Mr. DelliGatti met Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's, at a restaurant trade show in Chicago. He became a franchisee of McDonald's in 1957, opening an outlet in Pittsburgh, the first in western Pennsylvania.

Mr. Delligatti is survived by his wife, Ellie, two sons, five grandchildren and eight great grandchildren. His two sons and two of his grandchildren are McDonald's franchisees. In all, the family owns and operates 21 McDonald's restaurants in western Pennsylvania.

In 2007, the family opened a McDonald's Big Mac Museum Restaurant in North Huntingdon, Pa., near Pittsburgh.

Mr. Delligatti also innovated by coming up with an early version of the chain's breakfast offerings--hotcakes and sausages initially aimed at steelworkers returning home from overnight shifts.

He wasn't alone among franchisees in coming up with a hit product. McDonald's said other franchisees invented the Egg McMuffin and the Filet-O-Fish.

Write to James R. Hagerty at bob.hagerty@wsj.com

Corrections & Amplifications

This item was corrected at 12:48 p.m. ET to show that in 1953, Mr. Delligatti and a partner opened Delney's Drive-In Restaurant in Pittsburgh. In all, the family owns and operates 21 McDonald's restaurants in western Pennsylvania. The original incorrectly stated the name of the drive-in as Delaney's and misstated the number of resturants as 18.

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