In 1937, Sylvan Goldman, owner of the Humpty Dumpty supermarket chain in Oklahoma, was trying to solve the issue of customers taking multiple trips to carry and purchase all of their groceries. Goldman was inspired by a folding chair he saw at a department store and wanted to create a way for shoppers to carry more items without having to make multiple trips. He found a wooden folding chair and put a basket on the seat and wheels on the legs. Goldman and one of his employees, a mechanic named Fred Young, began tinkering.
They devised a prototype shopping cart based on the folding chair: wheels at the bottom of the chair legs and two metal baskets on top of each other in place of the chair seat. Goldman called his carts, “folding basket carriers”. He believed that offering shoppers a cart would lead them to buy more, increasing sales for the company.
At first, shoppers were critical of Goldman’s new design, claiming that it made them feel like they were pushing a baby carriage around. Though initially met with resistance, the shopping cart’s popularity surged after Goldman demonstrated its utility by hiring people to model and use them in his store. This innovation marked a transformative moment in the retail industry, cementing the shopping cart as an essential component of the self-serve retail concept. Goldman became a multimillionaire due to this design.
Around the same time, in 1946, Orla Watson made significant contributions to shopping cart design with his nesting feature. He devised a telescoping cart that could fit into another cart through a swinging one-way rear door, as opposed to storing them all separately. A legal battle between Goldman and Watson ensued over patent rights, ultimately resulting in Goldman recognizing Watson’s invention and obtaining an exclusive operating license.
During this era, Bessie DeCamp invented a seat belt for shopping carts, introducing the concept of child seating areas. While shopping cart technology continued to evolve, Bessie’s innovation laid the foundation for modern safety features in shopping carts.
The shopping cart has continued to evolve, with numerous manufacturers licensing the telescoping design. Today, shopping carts remain an integral part of grocery shopping, offering convenience and efficiency to retailers and customers alike. They form an integral part of AFS’ “Cart in the A” design, which features a shopping cart nested inside of our recognizable letter A. From Sylvan Goldman’s pioneering efforts to Orla Watson’s transformative nesting feature and Bessie DeCamp’s safety contributions, the shopping cart has become an enduring symbol of modern shopping experiences.
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