Peterson died peacefully Tuesday at his Santa Barbara home, said Monte Fraker, vice president of operations for McDonald's restaurants in that city.
He began his career with Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's Corp. as vice president of the company's advertising firm, D'Arcy Advertising, in Chicago. He wrote McDonald's first national advertising slogan, "Where Quality Starts Fresh Every Day."
Peterson eventually became a franchisee and was currently co-owner and operator of six McDonald's restaurants in Santa Barbara and Goleta, Fraker said.
Peterson came up with idea for the signature McDonald's breakfast item in 1972. He "was very partial to eggs Benedict," Fraker said, and worked on creating something similar.
The egg sandwich consisted of an egg that had been formed in a Teflon circle with the yolk broken, topped with a slice of cheese and grilled Canadian bacon. It was served open-faced on a toasted and buttered English muffin.
The Egg McMuffin made its debut at a restaurant in Santa Barbara that Peterson co-owned with his son, David Peterson.
Fraker said that, although semiretired, Peterson still visited all six of his stores in the Santa Barbara area until last year when his health began to deteriorate.
"He would talk to the customers, visit with the employees. He loved McDonald's," Fraker said.
Fraker, who said he worked with Peterson for 30 years, said "he was amazing as far as giving back to the community."
"He embraced the community and the community embraced him," Fraker said. "We loved the man."
Peterson is survived by his wife, son and three daughters.
A public memorial service will be held April 23 at All Saints by the Sea church in Montecito.