Many of you reading this site who also lived through the 1970s as an adult probably have share your of wild stories involving cocaine. That subset of readers is probably aware of the quirky way that McDonalds inadvertently created a piece of cocaine paraphernalia and even became almost synonymous with cocaine in certain contexts. The rest of you, maybe not so much.
In the late 1970s, McDonalds introduced a combination coffee spoon/stirrer that had the company’s name on the handle and a tiny egg-shaped bowl or scoop on one end, while the other end was proudly crowned with the company’s double arches logo. Basically this spoon was, quite by accident, absolutely perfect for use as a coke spoon. The scoop could hold precisely 100 milligrams of cocaine, some have claimed, which made it an ideal measuring device in addition to providing an easy way for coke addicts to snort the stuff. And America’s largest corporations had just deposited countless millions of them all across the country. It was inevitable that cheeky cocaine users would adopt it.
Inadvertently, McDonalds had created the People’s Coke Spoon.
Remarkably, the adoption of the McDonalds stirrers as a helpful cocaine device was not limited to the product’s user base. Far from it. According to Barbara Mikkelson at snopes.com (which has confirmed the story), “The practice of using these implements in such fashion became so widespread that at least in some cities, a dose of cocaine was dubbed a ‘McSpoon’ because it came packaged in the tiny coffee stirrers from McDonald’s restaurants. ... In 1992 an undercover detective in Columbus, Ohio, said McSpoons were commonly sold ten to a bundle in that town and twelve to a bundle in Detroit” (emphasis added).
Understandably, McDonalds wasn’t thrilled to see their fine name being used as shorthand for one of the most widespread Schedule II controlled substances as defined by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Eventually the McDonalds spoon became a flat coffee stirrer. According to snopes.com, a spokesman for McDonald’s Corp. named Doug Timberlake stated at the time that the fast-food chain had chosen to redesign its spoons because “It has been brought to our attention that people are using them illegally and illicitly for purposes for which they are not intended.”
Three of the McSpoons alongside three of the redesigned flat version
According to a pretty entertaining reddit thread about the “McSpoon,” it was common for coke users to “break away the long middle section and melt the little spoon end to the McDonald’s logo.” When another user asks why on earth anyone would go to so much trouble, the response given is, “You did it so it would fit in a cigarette box.” If you click here you can see what I believe is a Photoshopped image representing what that would look like, I don’t think it’s a photograph of such a stirrer.
Understandably, the “McSpoon” has become the nostalgia artifact for some people. Right now you can buy a lot of 50 McSpoons for $60 on eBay.
In 2005 the artists Tobias Wong and “Ju$t Another Rich Kid” (founded by Ken Courtney) teamed up to create Coke Spoon 02, from “the Indulgent series,” which is described below. Coke Spoon 02 is a version of the McSpoon made of gold-plated bronze, while Coke Spoon 01 is a ballpoint pen cap made of the same expensive material. You can see pics of these items at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art website. Wong unfortunately died in 2010, but he endeared himself to me by calling his own body of work “postinteresting,” which is hilarious.
Predictably, McDonalds sent out a cease and desist letter with alacrity.
As Fox News reported at the time:
“The piece was part of the pair’s 2005 ‘Indulgences’ collection, inspired by the luxury goods market and designed to be the ultimate gift for the wealthy bachelor who had it all, said Courtney of Ju$t Another Rich Kid. ‘Indulgences’ featured gold-plated Playboy swizzle sticks, 24-karat gold pills meant to be swallowed, golden dumbbells and another golden coke spoon cast from the cap of a BIC pen.” Wong was quoted as saying, “It’s kind of the pop culture of today with a bling twist.” Philip Wood, the creative director of CITIZEN:Citizen, which had been showing the piece, said, “I think it’s a shame because I don’t think there’s any intent in damning anybody’s reputation. ... It really is a comment on how these objects change shape when they get into culture.”