FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000

A Revolution in Food Shopping

Supermarkets transformed the food shopping experience by providing a wide variety of goods, self-service, and consistent pricing. Dependent on volume sales and a large customer base, supermarkets thrived in newly built suburban shopping centers that offered plenty of free parking, a necessity for car-dependent suburbanites.

Shopping center postcard, about 1960

Shopping center postcard, about 1960

Publix Super Markets built suburban strip malls in Florida, anchored by their own stores.  Their supermarkets were early to offer air-conditioning, bright lighting, expansive frozen-food cases, and magic-eye automatic doors.

Courtesy of Special Collections, Lakeland Public Library

Telescoping shopping carts, about 1949

Sylvan Goldman of Oklahoma City invented the first wheeled shopping cart in 1939. In 1946, Orla E. Watson of Kansas City developed the familiar telescoping shopping carts that nestled together for compact storage. Watson claimed that each additional parked cart required “only one-fifth as much space as an ordinary cart.” Gift of Edith Watson.

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Flier, about 1950

Flier, about 1950

The advent of telescoping carts meant more carts for shoppers as well as more retail space for store owners.

NMAH Archives Center AC0739-0000008b

Publicity stunt, about 1957

Publicity stunt, about 1957

Nicknamed the Taj Mahal of supermarkets, Publix promoted its spacious aisles by driving a shopper around the store in a car.

Courtesy of Publix Super Markets, Inc.