What’s in a Basket?

Have you ever wondered about shopping carts? Everyone uses one if they are buying more than an item or two when they grocery shop. They are practically as common as cars. But where did they come from?

Before their invention, folks just carried a basket or bag to tote their intended purchases to the checkout. But store owners began to notice that often purchases were limited by what a shopper could carry. They wanted to sell more, so they tried several solutions. One grocer installed a raised 15″ wide track on which shoppers could push a wheeled basket. It was something like a RR track. It proved wildly unsuccessful. Other owners tried hiring helpers who would carry groceries for the customers. The help would carry the full baskets to the counter then take another empty basket to the shopper. This was also quite inefficient and sometimes confusing. Other grocers tried little pull carts that looked much like a child’s toy wagon. But pulling your groceries behind you and bending down to load and unload the conveyance also proved a poor solution.

Then one day in 1936, Sylvan Goldman was sitting at his desk in the office of one of his Humpty-Dumpty grocery stores and noticed a folding chair. He took the idea of a new kind of cart to one of his store’s handymen, Fred Young, and Sylvan and Fred worked out the design & kinks so that it was steady and wouldn’t tip over or unexpectedly fold up. Thus the (nearly) modern shopping cart was invented. After a short struggle to get the public to accept the carts (many men said they could carry their own baskets, thank you very much, and some women had had enough of pushing something that resembled a baby carriage) but it didn’t take long for the new shopping carts to prove very successful and were soon used in groceries across America.

If you would like to see (and use) one of the first grocery carts ever made, stop by for a visit at the museum Gen’l Store. We have two on hand, given to the museum by Gary Strietlow, who had collected the carts many decades ago from a closed meat market in Cleveland.

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