ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

A man who changed the way Americans eat breakfast has died.

In the 1970s, Herb Peterson famously combined an egg, a slab of bacon, some cheese and an English muffin, and called it an Egg McMuffin. Peterson was a McDonald's franchisee in Southern California.

As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, the McMuffin opened the door to a whole new market for the fast food industry.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Herb Peterson actually got his start with McDonald's as an ad man. He penned the company's first national advertising slogan, Where Quality Starts Fresh Every Day.

Okay, so it's not one of the most memorable McDonald's ads, but Peterson got a break the day he invented one of the restaurant's signature products.

Unidentified Man: Hi. Can I have an Egg McMuffin, please?

Unidentified Woman: $3.44.

HORSLEY: The Egg McMuffin is a fast food version of eggs Benedict. Peterson developed a special Teflon ring for cooking the eggs on a hamburger grill. He topped them with a slice of Canadian bacon, and instead of runny hollandaise sauce, he substituted a slice of melted cheese.

It was breakfast in a sack. And Bob Goldin of the consulting firm Technomic says it was just the kind of finger food that busy American consumers had been missing in the morning.

Mr. BOB GOLDIN (Executive Vice President, Technomic): I don't think there were a whole lot of products that fit that need at that point in time. You know, breakfast tended to be a sit-down occasion - eggs and bacon, cereal. And here comes this Egg McMuffin that was - people could eat it on the go.

HORSLEY: The Egg McMuffin became the anchor of McDonald's new breakfast menu. And by the time it was rolled out nationally in 1976, the restaurants were able to ring up sales for several extra hours every day.

Goldin says, today, breakfast accounts for about one-third of McDonald's total sales. He said fast food competitors have added their own breakfast offerings, but they've never really caught up to McDonald's.

Mr. GOLDIN: And in many ways, that is certainly one of their key competitive advantages, in my mind, is their dominance of the breakfast-day part.

HORSLEY: The Egg McMuffin even made waves outside McDonald's, helping to boost sales of English muffins throughout the country. Herb Peterson was co-owner of six McDonald's restaurants in Southern California, and he continued to visit the stores, until recently. He died Tuesday, at his home in Santa Barbara. He was 89.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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