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Shopping Cart Day

On June 4, 1937, an advertisement appeared in the Oklahoma City Advertiser with a headline that included the phrases "IT'S NEW—IT'S SENSATIONAL" and "No More Baskets to Carry!" It is followed by text that says, "Can you imagine, wending your way through a spacious food market without having to carry a cumbersome shopping basket on your arm. That's what you'll find at the Standard." The ad is vague, not specifying what will allow customers to shop without a basket, but instead encourages them to come in and see for themselves, and goes on to say, "The Standard shopping way is a revelation of food buying and every customer who visits our store this week-end will see the latest device conceived by the mind of man; and be able to shop with an ease never before known to any Food Store."

What was happening was Sylvan N. Goldman was debuting his first shopping cart—the first shopping cart anywhere—at his Standard Stores, located in the Oklahoma City area, on a day we observe today as Shopping Cart Day. Goldman and his Standard Stores also operated Humpty Dumpty Stores, and the carts rolled out there later in the month. An advertisement in The Oklahoma News on June 25 announced, "Most all Humpty Dumpty Stores in Oklahoma City are this week inaugurating the newest and most convenient shopping aid ever found in a grocery store. No more 'lugging' a heavy basket, dropping a part of your order, stooping over to pick it up, no more inconvenience of any kind."

Prior to his invention, Goldman's customers had been carrying their groceries in heavy hand-held baskets, which limited how much they could carry and buy at a time. He had witnessed people leaving his store, tired from carrying the baskets or half-filled bags they thought might break. He knew that to increase sales and for customers to buy more groceries when they visited, they needed to be able to shop comfortably. His initial idea was to station workers throughout the aisles, who offered to take customers' baskets to the front of the store when they were filled and to give them new ones. He tried this for a few weeks but believed it wasn't efficient.

One evening, Goldman came up with the idea for the shopping cart after seeing two folding chairs in his office. With the help of employee Fred Young, he came up with a prototype. Wheels were welded at the bottom of leg chairs, and instead of a chair seat, two metal baskets were welded on top of each other on the top of the legs. Goldman and Young improved on the prototype for a few months and then made a few of the carts. They first hit the grocery store floor on June 4, 1937.

The carts were not particularly popular at first, but Goldman hired men and women models of different ages to push items around his stores in them, pretending to be shopping. He also placed a worker at the front of his stores who suggested to arriving customers that they use the carts. Soon shopping carts became a success. Goldman also received a patent for his shopping cart in 1940. Other supermarkets asked Goldman to sell them shopping carts, and he created his own shopping cart factory, the Folding Carrier Company.

Another version of the shopping cart debuted in 1946. Orla E. Watson of Kansas City had noticed that shopping carts took up a lot of space at the front of stores and had the idea to replace vertically stacked baskets with a single basket with a longer, horizontal frame so that the carts could be fitted into each other for more compact storage. He designed prototypes with a "flip-up door" and completed a patent application. Goldman contested Watson's patent and filed an application for a similar patent, but he relented and granted Watson patent rights for his design in 1949.

Shopping cart baskets became larger as stores found out that the larger they were the more items people bought. Almost all big stores offer shopping carts today. Modest improvements have been made to carts over the years. For instance, carts often now have integrated seats that allow children to sit in them and go shopping with their parents. Carts haven't been limited to shopping, and are sometimes used as laundry trolleys, for the homeless to transport their goods, and for kids to play on, such as by using them as go-karts. For the way they transformed and simplified the shopping experience, we celebrate shopping carts today, on the anniversary of their debut, with Shopping Cart Day.

How to Observe Shopping Cart Day

Naturally, the best way to celebrate the day is to go shopping with a shopping cart! Other ways you could take part include watching the documentary film Carts of Darkness, reading the books The Cart That Changed The World: The Career of Sylvan N. Goldman or The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification, or by buying your own shopping cart.

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