One of the first shopping carts was introduced on June 4, 1937, the invention of Sylvan Goldman, owner of the Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain in Oklahoma City (another shopping-cart innovator was Orla Watson,[2] who invented the swinging rear door to allow for “nesting” in 1946).[3][4][5] One night, in 1936, Goldman sat in his office wondering how customers might move more groceries.[6] He found a wooden folding chair and put a basket on the seat and wheels on the legs. Goldman and one of his employees, Fred Young, a mechanic, began tinkering. Their first shopping cart was a metal frame that held two wire baskets. Since they were inspired by the folding chair, Goldman called his carts “folding basket carriers”. Another mechanic, Arthur Kosted, developed a method to mass produce the carts by inventing an assembly line capable of forming and welding the wire. The cart was awarded patent number 2,196,914 on April 9, 1940 (Filing date: March 14, 1938), titled, “Folding Basket Carriage for Self-Service Stores”. They advertised the invention as part of a new “No Basket Carrying Plan.”

The invention did not catch on immediately. Men found them effeminate; women found them suggestive of a baby carriage. “I’ve pushed my last baby buggy,” an offended woman informed Goldman. After hiring several male and female models to push his new invention around his store and demonstrate their utility, as well as greeters to explain their use, shopping carts became extremely popular and Goldman became a multimillionaire.
Goldman continued to make modifications to his original design, but the subsequent work of Orla Watson along with advice from his trusted business partners Fred Taylor, a grocery store owner,[7] and George O’Donnell, a grocery store refrigeration salesman yielded the familiar nesting cart that we see today (albeit the original telescope cart had two baskets rather than one).[8] Goldman patented a similar version of the cart which he called the “Nest-Kart” in 1948, over one year after Watson filed for his patent.[7] The Nest-Kart incorporated the same nesting mechanism present on the shopping carts designed by Watson, and an interference investigation was ordered by Telescope Carts, Inc. alleging infringement of the patent in 1948.[7] After a protracted legal battle, Goldman ultimately recognized Watson’s invention and paid one dollar in damages for counterfeit, in exchange for which Watson granted Goldman an exclusive operating license (apart from the three licenses that had already been granted).[7]

Nesting of Carts-Orla Watson’s Telescoping Carts.

Original patent documents showing design of the nesting feature of the Telescope Cart. The rear of the cart swings forward when a cart is shoved into it, hence the nesting feature.

In 1946, Orla Watson devised a system for a telescoping (i.e., “nesting”) shopping cart which did not require assembly or disassembly of its parts before and after use like Goldman’s cart; Goldman’s design up until this point required that the cart be unfolded much like a folding chair.[7] This cart could be fitted into another cart for compact storage via a swinging one-way rear door. The swinging rear door formed the basis of the patent claim, and was a major innovation in the evolution of the modern shopping cart. Watson applied for a patent on his shopping cart invention in 1946, but Goldman contested it and filed an application for a similar patent with the swinging door feature on a shopping cart with only one basket in 1948 which Goldman named the “Nest-Kart”. After considerable litigation and allegations of patent infringement, Goldman relinquished his rights to the patent in 1949 to Watson and his company, Telescope Carts, Inc. realizing that the swinging rear door feature was the key to Watson’s patent. Watson was awarded patent #2,479,530 on August 16, 1949.[9] In exchange, Goldman was granted an exclusive licensing right in addition to the three other licenses previously granted; Telescope Carts, Inc. continued to receive royalties for each cart produced by Goldman’s company that incorporated the “nesting” design. This included any shopping cart utilizing his hinged rear door, including the familiar single basket “nesting” designs similar to those used at the present.[10]

Owing to it’s overwhelming success, many different manufacturers desired to produce shopping carts with the rear swinging door feature but were denied due to the exclusive license issued to Goldman. The federal government filed a lawsuit against Telescope Carts, Inc. in 1950 alleging the exclusive license granted to Goldman was invalid, and a Consent Decree was entered into where Telescope Carts, Inc. agreed to offer the same license to any manufacturer. Orla Watson and Telescope Carts, Inc. licensed their telescoping shopping cart design to several manufacturers throughout the 1950s and 1960s until the patent expired.

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