Robert O. Peterson

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Robert O. Peterson
BornMarch 13, 1916
DiedApril 18, 1994 (aged 78)
San Diego, California
Known forFounder of Jack in the Box restaurant chain
Spouse(s)Former San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor

Robert Oscar Peterson (March 13, 1916 – April 18, 1994) was an American businessman and philanthropist. As the founder of the Jack in the Box restaurant chain, he popularized the drive-through fast food restaurant concept. He is credited with being the first to pair the drive-through window with an intercom system for greater efficiency.[1]

Personal life[edit]

He was a native San Diegan and graduated from Hoover High School in 1933. He attended San Diego State College and graduated from UCLA with a degree in economics.[2] He was a naval intelligence officer during World War II.[3] He was married four times, notably (in 1977) to Maureen O'Connor, who went on to become the first female mayor of San Diego from 1985 to 1992; this was his only marriage not to end in divorce.[4] The former mayor was at his side when he died in 1994.[4] He had four children by his previous marriage to Lorraine Bhalla, none of whom went into the restaurant business.[2]

Restaurant career[edit]

Peterson entered the restaurant business in 1941 with a drive-in diner called "Topsy's" (later renamed "Oscar's"), located at 6270 El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego. This was a classic drive-in where food was served by carhops to patrons in the parking lot. Over the next decade his company, the San Diego Commissary Company, operated several Topsy's and Oscar's restaurants throughout San Diego, including a flagship Oscar's at Midway Drive and Rosecrans Street in the Midway area. In 1951, he converted the Oscar's on El Cajon Boulevard into the first Jack in the Box,[5] a drive-through with the innovation of a two-way intercom that allowed one car to place an order while another car was being served. Other restaurants had previously offered drive-up window service, but Jack in the Box was the first major chain to make drive-through windows the focus of its operation.[6] Since the concept was unfamiliar to most customers, the speaker (topped with the trademark clown) had a sign that announced "Pull forward, Jack will speak to you!"

Entrance to Peterson's home in Point Loma

The Jack in the Box restaurant was conceived as a "modern food machine" and was designed by La Jolla master architect Russell Forester, who also designed Peterson’s landmark home in Point Loma in 1965.[7]

Peterson built the chain to over 300 locations. He renamed his company Foodmaker in 1960 and sold it in 1967 to Ralston-Purina. By that time, the "drive-thru" concept had become an industry standard.[4]

Later life[edit]

He spent the final 30 years of his life in philanthropy and civic improvement. He was a consistent patron of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, sponsoring research for many years, and donating the 96-foot diesel yacht Dolphin to the institution in 1973.[8] Peterson Hall at the University of California, San Diego is named after him.[9]

In 1984, he was diagnosed with leukemia. He battled the disease for the next 10 years until his death in 1994 at the age of 78.[4]


  1. ^ NNDB
  2. ^ a b San Diego Union-Tribune, June 20, 1984
  3. ^ O’Connor, Colleen, Faces of San Diego, page 38
  4. ^ a b c d Tony Perry (April 20, 1994). "Robert O. Peterson, Founder of Jack in the Box Restaurants, Dies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
  5. ^ San Diego Historical Society timeline
  6. ^ Langdon, Philip, Orange Roofs, Golden Arches: The architecture of American chain restaurants, page 104, Knopf, 1986, ISBN 978-0-394-54401-4
  7. ^ California Department of Parks and Recreation
  8. ^ Scripps Institution of Oceanography
  9. ^ UCSD Facilitieslink - Peterson Hall

External links[edit]