Answer: Perhaps the earliest retail franchisor is Ben Franklin stores, which started in 1920 and began to franchise around that time. The earliest fast-food franchise was A&W® Root Beer, established in 1924, with Howard Johnson® being the first to franchise restaurants in 1935. An early pioneer in service franchising was Arthur Murray® Dance Studios, which got its start in 1938.
Franchising really took off as a form of business in the 1950s and 1960s, when many of the current large franchise chains, businesses such as Tastee-Freez®, KFC®, McDonald’s, and Burger King®, were established. The acceleration of franchising in the 1950s and 1960s can be attributed largely to two factors: the rise of television advertising and the establishment of the national highway system. The former made national advertising a viable way to build a brand name. As a result, for the first time, it became possible to have a national chain whose competitive advantage was based on a recognizable name. The latter made travel to unfamiliar locations more common and created the need to have national brand names to demonstrate quality to customers in these locations. 
Want to learn more about where franchising originated? Check out our quick read, “The History of Franchising.”
 Scott A. Shane, From Ice Cream to the Internet: Using Franchising to Drive the Growth and Profits of Your Company, (Pearson Education: 2005), 5-6. http://www.informit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=360649&seqNum=2