There was a time when grocery carts looked nothing like they do now. The first commercial grocery carts were invented in 1936 by Sylvan Goldman and a young mechanic named Fred Young. At first, it was a simple idea, but it profoundly impacted the retail industry.

The Very First Shopping Cart

In the beginning, the metal grocery cart was a stack of two metal folding chairs with wheels at the bottom of their legs, which could be rolled through the supermarket.

Goldman acquired the Oklahoma City-based Piggly Wiggly and Humpty-Dumpty grocery chains in 1934. During this period, shoppers purchased heavier goods but still used hand baskets to carry them. Goldman was motivated to simplify shopping for his customers with the rise in canned and refrigerated goods. They spent the night working on a rolling grocery basket prototype with their handyman Fred Young.

At first, Goldman’s plan failed. Women compared the cart to a baby stroller and refused to use it while shopping. They told him, “I’ve pushed my last baby buggy.” When they couldn’t carry their groceries around the store on their own, men were upset and worried that shopping carts made them appear weak. Goldman, on the other hand, refused to give up.

He hired young women to demonstrate the utility of the carts by pushing them around his supermarkets. A few people were swayed by this method right away. To market his grocery carts, he hired actors of all ages to appear in commercials, and soon his stores were packed with happy customers who no longer had to lug around their shopping bags. With the help of competitors, Goldman was able to turn his old folding chairs into a thriving business quickly.

Problem on the Horizon

On the other hand, Telescoping carts would soon be introduced to the grocery industry as a game-changing innovation. Machinist and business owner Orla Watson from Missouri came up with a grocery cart design that outperformed Goldman’s basket carriers. The cart provided space-saving convenience in supermarkets and parking lots by nesting multiple carts together rather than disassembling them. In 1946, Watson applied for a patent, but Goldman contested it.

On the other hand, Goldman built replicas of the nesting carts to compete with the newcomer. Goldman was able to eliminate Watson from the market when he reduced the price of his new carts by three dollars.  Watson finally received the patent in 1949 after a lengthy legal battle. Royalties were due on every nesting cart manufactured by Goldman.

The grocery cart’s design remained largely unchanged for decades, but small alterations contributed to its current form. In the mid-1950s, carts were equipped with seats for children, making the grocery cart a necessity in the supermarket.

Any website with a product to sell can use the shopping cart, but its origins can be traced back to a late-night brainstorming session in an Oklahoma supermarket and some tinkering there. From security devices to complete cart redesigns, we’ll be looking at some of the latest innovations in grocery cart design in our next installment of this cart’s history. The market for cart-less retailers will also be examined.