Day 290/365: Supermarket Cart / Trolley Ride History. Thanks to Goldman and Watson!

October 18, 2011

Have you ever try riding a Supermarket Cart? I bet you do! This is the kid’s favorite ride whenever we are in the Supermarket. And would you know how much each cost? Based on, the price range is from USD18 to 50 depending on how many you need, and there are different designs to choose from too, by size and color. But who invented this nice supermarket ride though? As the Google tags say so, it came from Uncle Sam! and the evolution of how it became a “Supermarket Cart” of today is way back almost 100 years ago.

A first step : the deubner shopping bag
Walter h. deubner ran an old-style grocery store in st. paul minnesota, and he was looking for a way to give his business a boost. by careful observation, he noticed that his customers purchases were limited by what they could conveniently carry home. so he set about devising a way to help them buy more purchases at one time. it took him four years to develop the right solution: a prefabricated package, inexpensive, easy to use-and strong enough to carry alot of groceries. the package consisted of a paper bag with cord running through it forstrength. he patented his product and within three years, by 1915, was selling over a million shopping bags a year. (The invention of Supot (in Tagalog). The depression increased pressure on us retailers to pinch pennies. supermarkets kept prices low with volume and by eliminating certain services offered by old-style stores (no credit, no home delivery) and customers had to pick out their own purchases instead of requesting itemsfrom a clerk.

A second step: the wire shopping baskets
Many stores had a supply of wicker market baskets, (which were weak and too small to carry many items) until wire baskets (and the more elegant fabric-covered version of wire basket) have been introduced. these baskets became heavy when loaded with many items, particularly for the woman buyer, who usually did most of the food shopping. customers had a tendency to stop shopping when the baskets became too full. How could the basic drudgery of grocery buying be eliminated, and the volume of grocery sales greatly increased? in retrospect, a wheeled cart may seem the obvious choice. it wasn’t, judging from some earlier efforts to increase customers’ carrying capacity. (The “Bayong” in Tagalog- a plastic wired basket)

A third step: the two wire basket trolley
Why not two baskets, one above the other? the first shopping cart is said to be invented by sylvan goldman of oklahoma city, who owned a local chain of grocery stores called ‘piggly-wiggly’. it was developed in the late 1930s and patented in 1940. Goldman was inspired by a pair of folding chairs and he envisioned a folding cart gizmo -(since you have to be able to store shopping carts, the frames were designed to be folded and the baskets nested, prior to each use the baskets and the frame needed to be assembled.)… if the seat of a folding chair were raised several inches and another similar seat were added below, a basket could be placed on each of them. wheels attached to each leg would make the chair mobile, and the back of the chair could be adapted as a handle to push the cart. The first prototypes failed miserably. they folded up on themselves at the slightest provocation and capsized entirely too easily. Goldman, together with a friend, the mechanic fred young, then re-designed his shopping cart and in 1947 he formed the ‘folding basket carrier co.’ to manufacture these carts and to
sell them to stores around the country. (the company has changed hands several times since goldman sold it in 1961, after his patents had expired; today it is part of UNARCO industries, inc.) ‘Look, everybody’s using them – why not you?’ Once goldman’s invention had been perfected for practical use, it had to be ‘sold’ to customers, because the invention did not catch on immediately. this task proved nearly as difficult as originating and perfecting the concept, customers didn’t want anything to do with the carts. men found them effeminate (you mean, with my big strong arm that I can’t carry a darn little basket like that?); women found them suggestive of a baby carriage ( I have been pushing enough baby carriages. I don’t want to push any more…). Goldman’s invention had revealed an alert and imaginative mind; and the manner in which he promoted his creation illustrated his talents as an entrepreneur and a merchandising specialist. The inventor began advertising his new product with a poster campaign that featured a tired-looking woman clutching her purse in one hand and a heavily loaded market basket in the other. in bold type the caption beside the illustration read, ‘basket juggling is a lost art at your standard food stores.’ the text accompanying the visual art emphasized ‘the newest innovation in shopping! now at your standard food stores.’ the ad then described the joys of ‘wending your way through a spacious food market without having to carry a cumbersome shopping basket on your arm… just pick up your items from the shelves and place it in your car without having to carry a single item.’ Goldman had cleverly touted his product without mentioning its name. but only after hiring several male and female models to push his new invention around his store and demonstrate their utility, shopping carts became extremely popular, and supermarkets were
redesigned to accommodate them. Goldman became a multimillionaire.

A Fourth step: the nesting or telescope two basket cart
The biggest innovation came in 1947, when carts started to be nested together like spoons instead of being folded up individually and stacked. The trick was accomplished by putting a hinge on the back of the baskets (which were no longer removable), allowing them to swing upward, and making the front of the baskets smaller than the rear, so one could fit inside another. the basket became made of welded wire mesh and the frame made from tubular steel. employees could now store carts by simply shoving them together, wrangling a dozen or more at once if necessary, and a shopper could easily pull one from the stack, ready to use. the nesting two basket cart is said to be invented by Orla e. Watson of Kansas city, missouri, who filed for a patent in september 1946.
the manufacturing, distribution, and sales of the telescoping carts was handled by ‘telescope carts inc.’, established by watson, and two partners. but soon the company had difficulty with the manufacture and sale of the carts, as authorized suppliers were not making carts of the quality expected. it happened that other manufacturers saw an opportunity, and soon telescoped carts were being made and sold by unlicensed parties despite watson’s pending patent.

A secundary invention : the power lift cart
A lift mechanism for checking out – just step on the switch – up the lower basket goes. lifts merchandise on the same height as the check-out counter.

A fifth (and last) step: the single basket cart
Finally the single basket cart gave way to the solid carts we use today. Around the same time, goldman developed a nesting single-basket version, which he called the ‘nest kart’, and filed for his own patent. In 1949, after some litigation, goldman abandoned his claim and agreed to license watson’s patent.

SM Supermarket CartFormal evolution until today
Just in time for the baby boom, the child seat was introduced. 1954 brought the availability of color coordinated cart handles with personalized store names making carts easier to identify in the parking lot and reminding shoppers which chain they were shopping at as they wheeled down the aisles. the first use of sealed wheel bearing came in 1955 which eliminated the need for lubrication and ensured smooth functioning throughout the life of the cart. in 1960, the first non-marking rubber wheels were used. also in 1960 automatic sliding doors were developed. sealed swivel casters were first used in 1961 solving the same problem for caster as it did for wheels a few years earlier. most of the carts today are fitted with four castor wheels, which can point in any direction to allow easy maneuvring. however, when any one of the wheels jams, the cart becomes extremely difficult to handle. some carts only have swivel castor wheels on the front, while the rear ones are locked. in 1962, a modified acrylic coating was used over the chrome finish to insulate the chrome from harsh environmental elements there by extending the life of the cart. in the formal evolution of the shopping cart also the basket size increased as stores realized that their customers purchased more as its size increased. and stores use a system to stimulate customers to return carts and to keep them orderly in a line in designated areas – carts are neatly chained to each other – to get a cart, you slide a coin into the slot of a little box attached to the cart’s handle. as the coin drops, the chain hooking your  cart to the next one in line disconnects, freeing the cart. when you’re done shopping, you simply reattach the chain, and your coin is returned to you. (From

Thanks to SM Hypermarket for having a cool Supermarket Trolley and Escalator too!

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