Despite their five-decade run of popularity, the green shakes have only been available nationwide since 2012.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated February 05, 2020

The year was 1970: Richard Nixon was president; The Beatles broke up; and M*A*S*H was a movie, not yet a TV show. It was also the year that McDonald’s debuted its Shamrock Shake in select locations across the U.S. in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day—and that mint green shake continues to be an end-of-the-winter tradition to this day, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020.

Today, McDonald’s announced that its Shamrock Shake will return on Wednesday, February 19. And seeing as the shake is celebrating its big 5-0, the burger chain has beefed up its annual promotion in two ways. First, McDonald’s says that the minty treat will be available at locations nationwide for the first time since 2017. (Last year, MickeyD’s instead pointed fans to a Shamrock Shake tracker to figure out where to score one.)

Courtesy of McDonald's

And second, this year, the brand is launching a cookies-and-cream spin on the 50-year classic: the new Oreo Shamrock McFlurry. McDonald’s describes this new Shamrock Shake-slash-McFlurry combo as “creamy, vanilla soft serve with our unmistakable Shamrock flavor and Oreo cookie pieces blended throughout for a delicious mint-chocolate dessert.”

Meanwhile, nothing lasts for 50 years without creating a legacy, so in celebration of this golden jubilee, McDonald’s has also offered up some key moments throughout the Shamrock Shake’s history. Though its debut didn’t come until 1970, the shake was actually first created in 1967 by Hal Rosen—an apparently St. Patrick’s Day-loving McDonald’s owner/operator in Connecticut. And under the “believe it or not” category, despite decades of popularity, McDonald’s says the shake didn’t get its first nationwide launch since 2012.

Other interesting Shamrock Shake tidbits: McDonald’s has introduced a number of shake spinoffs over the years, including a Shamrock Sundae in 1980 and a Chocolate Shamrock Shake in 2017. And in 2010, the chain made—at 24-feet-tall—the “World’s Largest Shamrock Shake.” Plus, here’s a fun fact: Though created in America, you can also find Shamrock Shakes in Canada and, appropriately, Ireland.

However, the Shamrock Shake’s most last legacy may be its ties to McDonald’s iconic charity, the Ronald McDonald House. As the company explains:

"When Philadelphia Eagles tight end Fred Hill's 3-year-old daughter, Kim, was being treated for leukemia in 1974, his life changed. He and his wife, Fran, camped out on hospital benches and sat in cramped waiting rooms during Kim's three years of treatment. The Hills watched other parents and families of seriously ill children do the same thing. Many of the families had to travel long distances for their children to receive medical treatment and couldn't afford hotel rooms.

The Hills knew there had to be a solution. Fred rallied the support of his teammates to raise funds. Through Jim Murray, the Eagles' general manager, the team offered its support to Dr. Audrey Evans, head of the pediatric oncology unit at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Evans had long dreamed of a "home away from home" for families of children being treated at her hospital.

Murray called Don Tuckerman, a friend from the local McDonald's advertising agency. "What's your next promotion?" he asked. "St Patrick's Day," Tuckerman said. "Shamrock Shakes." It was perfect: The milkshakes were green—the Eagles' color! With the support of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc and regional manager Ed Rensi, Tuckerman launched a week-long promotion around the Shamrock Shake, with all profits to be donated to the cause.

Enough funds were raised to help buy an old four-story, seven-bedroom house Evans had found near the hospital. It opened in 1974 as the first Ronald McDonald House.

The network of Houses grew quickly after that, offering families around the world a way to stay together in proximity to the hospital where their child was being treated, and be comfortable and cared for during their stay. Today, Ronald McDonald Houses serve more than 8,000 families each day around the world."

With a connection like that, it's no wonder Philadelphia often gets the Shamrock Shake twice each year. As for the continuing support of Ronald McDonald House, a McDonald's spokesperson told Food & Wine that sales of both Shamrock treats "may be donated to RMHC to support its mission to create and find programs that directly improve the health and well-being of children and their families during a time of need," but the charitable aspect varies by location.

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