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Fascinating facts about the invention of the
Shopping Cart
by Sylvan Goldman in 1937.

SHOPPING CART
AT A GLANCE:
One night, in 1936, Goldman sat in his office wondering how customers might move more groceries. He stared idly at a wooden folding chair. Put a basket on the seat, wheels on the legs. . . Wait a minute. Goldman and a mechanic, Fred Young, began tinkering. Their first shopping cart was a metal frame that held two wire baskets. Since they were inspired by the folding chair, Goldman called his carts "folding basket carriers".
THE STORY
RELATED INFO
BOOKS
WEB SITES
QUOTATIONS
DID YOU KNOW?
Invention: shopping cart in 1937
Photo courtesy www.realcartu.com
Function: noun / a handcart that holds groceries while shopping
Definition: A device whose concept was simple: make shopping easier for the customer and they’ll visit the store more frequently, and buy more.
Patent: March 15, 1938
Inventor: Sylvan Nathan Goldman
Photo courtesy www.realcartu.com
Criteria: First to invent. First to patent. Entrepreneur.
Birth: 1898 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Death: 1984 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Nationality: American
Milestones:
1936 Sylvan Goldman and a mechanic, Fred Young,begin to invent the first shopping cart
1937 Goldman formed the Folding Carrier Basket Company to make shopping carts
1938 March 12, U.S. Patent isuued to Sylvan Goldman for the shopping cart
1946 Orla E. Watson, of Kansas City, MO, devised a plan for a telescoping shopping cart
1946 Watson applied for a patent but Goldman contested and filed for a similar patent.
1947 designers added a childs seat to the carts
1949 Goldman relinquished his rights to the patent and granted them to Watson
1949 Goldman received licensing rights in addition to the three other licenses previously granted;
1949 Watson continued to receive royalties for each cart produced.
1952 a piece of plastic is added to close off the tiny leg holes for the childless shopper
1954 brought the availability of color coordinated cart handles with personalized store names
shopping cart, Goldman, Sylvan Goldman, sop cart, invention, history, inventor of, history of, who invented, invention of, fascinating facts.
The Story:
The first shopping carts were put into service by grocery store owner Sylvan Goldman in 1937. Sylvan Goldman, born in 1898 grew up in the new Oklahoma Territory and went into wholesale produce with his brother. Oklahoma oil prices plunged in 1921. That wiped them out, so they went to California to study new methods for retailing groceries. They came back and set up a chain of self-service stores equipped with woven baskets customers could carry while they shopped.

It was a huge success. They finally sold out to the Safeway chain. This time, the Depression wiped out their Safeway stock. But "the wonderful thing about food is that everyone uses it—and uses it only once." The Goldmans dove back in. By the mid-‘30s they owned half of the Standard/Piggly-Wiggly chain. One night, in 1936, Goldman sat in his office wondering how customers might move more groceries. He stared idly at a wooden folding chair. Put a basket on the seat, wheels on the legs. . . Wait a minute. Why not two baskets, one above the other?

Goldman and a mechanic, Fred Young, began tinkering. Their first shopping cart was a metal frame that held two wire baskets. Since you have to be able to store shopping carts, the frames were designed to be folded and the baskets nested. Since they were inspired by the folding chair, Goldman called his carts "folding basket carriers." Basically, they were folding metal frames with handles and wheels. Customers could place hand-held baskets on the carriers, and take them off again at checkout. Goldman formed the Folding Carrier Basket Company (still in business today as Unarco)..

Goldman’s concept was simple: make shopping easier for the customer and they’ll visit the store more frequently, and buy more. Unfortunately, the customers didn’t want to use the carts. Young men thought they would appear weak; young women felt the carts were unfashionable; and older people didn’t want to appear helpless. So, Goldman hired models of all ages and both sexes to push the things around the store, pretending they were shopping. That, and an attractive store greeter encouraging use of the carts, did the trick.

By 1940 shopping carts had found so firm a place in American life as to grace the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Supermarkets were redesigned to accommodate them. Checkout counter design and the layout of aisles changed.

In 1946, Orla E. Watson, of Kansas City, MO, devised a plan for a telescoping shopping cart which did not require assembly or disassembly of its parts before and after use; this cart could be fitted into another cart for compact storage, hence the cart descriptor. Watson applied for a patent on his shopping cart invention in 1946, but Goldman contested it and filed an application for a similar patent. In 1949 Goldman relinquished his rights to the patent and granted them to Watson. In exchange, Goldman received licensing rights in addition to the three other licenses previously granted; Watson continued to receive royalties for each cart produced.

The shopping cart has undergone many more changes as time has progressed.  The shape has changed as ergonomic considerations were taken into account.  For the most part, carts are bigger to hold more merchandise, thus enabling more sales. Although basic design hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years, the next generation of carts is still evolving, with even bigger upper and lower baskets. Some stores are starting to get cart accessories that hold two kindergarten-size kids.

Recent studies determined while the cartless retailers such as Sears and J.C. Penney have suffered slow sales in recent years, the retailers that do use shopping carts, among them Target and Home Depot, have had booming sales. In large part this could be attributed to the ease of shopping made possible by Sylvan Goldman's invention—the shopping cart.

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
Sylvan Goldman Biography   from The Great Idea Finder
Invention of the Shopping Bag   from The Great Idea Finder
Invention of the Paper Bag   from The Great Idea Finder

ON THE BOOKSHELF:
1000 Inventions & Discoveries
by Roger Bridgman / Hardcover: 256 pages / Dorling Kindersley Publishing; (2002)
Fascinating stories and vivid photographs and illustrations tell the tales of the developments in technology and natural science that have shaped our world. Profiles of the famous (and not-so-famous) men and women who have had "Eureka!" moments, a running timeline which puts the inventions and discoveries in historical context.
Why Didn't I Think of That?: Bizarre Origins of Ingenious Inventions We Couldn't Live Without
by Allyn Freeman, Bob Golden / Paperback - 260 pages / John Wiley & Sons; (September 1997)
Filled with wacky and fascinating facts, awe-inspiring success statistics, and rags-to-riches stories, Chronicles the odd origins behind 50 famous inventions and reveals the business side of each product's actual production, marketing, and distribution.
Constructing Usable Shopping Carts: Designing and Building Great E-Commerce
by Clifton Evans, Jody Kerr, Jon Stephens / Paperback: 350 pages / Friends of ED; Reprint (2004)
In this book, the authors try to show you how to design and code a full e-commerce application. From laying out the user interface and connecting with a server running a relational database.
Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping
by Paco Underhill / Paperback: 256 pages / Simon & Schuster (June 2, 2000)
Why We Buy is a wealth of retail insights, showing how men are beginning to shop like women, and how women have changed the way supermarkets are laid out.
The Cart That Changed the World (This title is out of print)
by T.Wilson / University of Oklahoma Press, 1978.
The Career of Sylvan N. Goldman, born in 1898 grew up in the new Oklahoma Territory


ON THE WEB:

Sylvan Nathan Goldman
And while the cartless retailers such as Sears and J.C. Penney have suffered slow sales in recent years, the newer retailers that do use shopping carts, among them Target and Home Depot, have had booming sales. In large part this could be attributed to the ease of shopping made possible by Sylvan Goldman's invention—the shopping cart.
(URL: www.realcartu.com/goldman/)
Telescoping Shopping Cart Collection
In 1946, Orla E. Watson, of Kansas City, MO, devised a plan for a telescoping shopping cart which did not require assembly or disassembly of its parts before and after use; this cart could be fitted into another cart for compact storage, hence the cart descriptor. Article by: Jeanne Sklar.
(URL: americanhistory.si.edu/archives/d8739.htm)
Shopping Cart History
The shopping cart has undergone many more changes as time has progressed.  The shape has changed as ergonomic considerations were taken into account.  For the most part, carts are bigger to hold more merchandise, thus enabling more sales
(URL: www.unarco.com/unarco/history.html)
Use a Basket For Easy Shopping
Although not an immediate success with his clientele, he persevered, eventually hiring models to push his "folding basket carrier" through the store to get the cart rolling. He later founded the Folding Carrier Company to market his invention. His company is still in the cart business, now known as Unarco, manufacturer of industry standard shopping carts.
(URL: www.themut.com/exhibits/basketexhibit.htm)
A Brief History of Innovation
In 1937, Goldman, whose family owned supermarkets in Oklahoma City, began advertising his invention as a new "No Basket Carrying Plan." The carts became a hit and turned Goldman into a multimillionaire.
(URL: www.inc.com/magazine/20021001/24702.html)

WORDS OF WISDOM:
"The customers had a tendency to stop shopping when the baskets became too full or too heavy." - Sylvan Goldman

DID YOU KNOW?:

  • Defense Commissary Agency has approximately 50,000 shopping carts at its 308 stores worldwide. That’s 33 miles of carts placed end-to-end. If you stacked them up, they would rise to about seven times the height of Mt. Everest, but not quite into outer space.
  • Shopping carts cost $75 to $115 each, depending on size
  • Carts kept inside can last up to 10 years. Carts kept outside or carts that are subjected to abuse will only last about five years.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type. This page revised April, 24, 2007.
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