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Who Invented Shopping Carts?

By Bronwyn Harris
Updated May 17, 2024
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It is hard to imagine a trip to the supermarket without the ubiquitous metal shopping carts. Shoppers load, push, and fight to steer the shopping carts. Shopping carts are scattered across parking lots and lined up outside stores. However, when shopping carts first came out, they were not readily accepted.

Sylvan Goldman, the owner of the Piggly Wiggly supermarkets in Oklahoma City, noticed that his shoppers had to struggle to carry their heavy hand-held shopping baskets. He wanted to make shopping easier for his customers, so that they would buy more. In 1937, he and his mechanic friend, Fred Young, mounted folding chairs on wheels and set the shopping basket down on the seat of the chairs. This was the first of all shopping carts.

Goldman's customers generally did not accept the shopping carts immediately. Everyone seemed to have a problem with them; the elderly did not want to appear helpless, women did not want to look unstylish, and men did not want to seem weak. Models were hired by Goldman to pretend to shop, using the shopping carts. These models were both female and male, across the full spectrum of ages. He also hired a store greeter to explain to interested customers exactly how shopping carts worked. Advertisements pointed out the benefits of not having to carry heavy shopping baskets or balance items precariously in small baskets.

At the end of the year, Goldman was manufacturing shopping carts. These proved to be wildly popular, and by 1940, he had a waiting list of 7 years for his shopping carts. He called these shopping carts "folding basket carriers." They consisted of a metal frame with wheels and handles, which could fold up. Hand-held baskets could be placed on the frame and removed when it came time to check out. These early shopping carts had to be assembled before each use.

Goldman continued to improve his shopping carts, and in 1947, formed the Folding Basket Carrier Co. to produce the "nest cart." This type of shopping cart was designed for easy storage by nesting one inside the other. A decade later, there were many varieties of the nesting cart.

Goldman received royalties on all shopping carts sold until his patent expired in 1961. He became a multimillionaire with his idea which enabled people an easier way to shop for their groceries. Approximately 1.25 million new shopping carts are manufactured each year in the United States alone.

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Discussion Comments
By ysmina — On Apr 07, 2011

It seems like such a simple thing, the shopping cart. But it's probably largely responsible for the shopping craze in this country. I think there was an article that talked about this. If I remember correctly, it was about how stores with shopping carts have more sales than those that don't.

It's kind of difficult to understand. Is the ease of carrying purchases actually more important than budget for the average American? I think that's what the article is implying right? We buy more because we can carry it around in the store, not because we necessarily need it. I don't know if I should be amazed at this super profitable invention or concerned about how the physical weight imposed by our purchases completely control our shopping habits.

Anyone have any other explanation for why we buy more with the shopping cart?

By fify — On Apr 06, 2011

My grandmother remembers when shopping carts first came out. She said that she and her friends didn't want to use them because they looked like baby carriages. They felt that shopping carts implied that shopping was the duty of women, just as child rearing or cooking was. So interesting, isn't it?

I think in the near future, we might not use shopping carts or even physical stores at all anymore. The shopping cart has transformed into a virtual shopping cart that you click on when you are online shopping. I'm sure Goldman never saw that coming.

By bear78 — On Apr 05, 2011

Wow, I am so surprised to know that people actually didn't want to use shopping carts. Even malls have shopping carts now, it used to be that only grocery stores had them.

I think Sylvan Goldman was very intelligent because I definitely buy more when I pick up a shopping cart at the store. It's almost like I can't tell how much I've put in the cart. When I carry a basket though, I always know when I have too much stuff because it becomes really heavy.

I actually stopped using shopping carts when I was in college for a while because I didn't have a car. I had to take the bus and carry the bags by hand. Whenever I used a shopping cart at the store, I would end up buying so much that I could barely carry those bags home. I learned my lesson after a couple of times and only used baskets until I got a car!

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