A&W began in June 1919 at 13 Pine Street Lodi, California, when Frank Wright partnered with Roy Allen to help Wright with the root beer business he started that year. The company became famous in the United States for its "frosty mugs," where the mug would be kept in the freezer prior to being filled with root beer and served to the customer. They branded their product A&W Root Beer after their surnames.

In 1921, Allen began franchising the drink, arguably the first successful food-franchising operation. His profits came from a small franchise fee and sales.

Then, in 1924 Allen bought out Wright to pursue a franchising program, which became America's first franchised restaurant chain. He sold A&W Root Beer concentrate exclusively to these franchises to ensure quality. By 1933, more than 170 outlets were franchised.

During WW II, A&W Root Beer stands increased in number, despite government sugar rationing. After the war, more than 450 franchises were open, driven by the popularity of the automobile and the new mobile society. In 1950, Roy Allen retired and sold the business to Gene Hurtz. In 1963, Mr. Hurtz sold the A&W Root Beer Company to the J. Hungerford Smith Company.

More ownership changes took place during the 60s and 70s, but the only place to get A&W Root Beer was on tap at an A&W Restaurant.

The first A&W Stand 

The first A&W Stand 

In 1962, the first overseas A&W restaurant opens in Guam. The international division quickly expanded to the countries of the Philippines and Malaysia in 1963.

A&W's goodwill Ambassador mascot, the Great Root Beer is created in 1974 to participate in grand openings and perform community service, such as entertaining at children's hospital.

In 1971, a beverage division began, supplying bottled A&W products to grocery stores. The soft drink sold under A&W are root beer and cream soda made by Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc.

In 1989, A&W made an agreement with Minnesota-based Carousel Snack Bars to convert that chain's 200 stores (mostly kiosks in shopping malls) to A&W Hot Dogs & More. Some A&W Hot Dogs & More are still operating. In late 2000s, A&W added franchises with a nostalgic look and modern technology. They have a carhop design with drive-thrus and some have picnic tables. Previously owned by Yum! Brands, the chain was sold to a consortium of A&W franchisees, through A Great American Brand LLC, in December 2011.