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Shopping Trolley

Shopping Trolley

We can’t even imagine shopping without the convenience must have – a shopping trolley. It was developed in the US in the late 30s, when Oklahoma businessman Sylvan Goldman noticed that customers tended to stop shopping when the baskets provided became too heavy or full. He experimented with a few basket-carrier types on wheels, and after a number of refinements the trolley as a wheeled cart with two wire baskets made its first appearance in 1937.

This shopping convenience didn’t escape the attention of Alan and Fred Sainsbury, who visited the US in 1949 and were impressed by everything self-service related. So, it was no surprise that the shopping trolley made its debut in Sainsbury’s self-service store in Croydon in 1950. 

There’s an insightful article in the staff magazine 'Journal', 'Sainsbury's sample self-service', that covers post-war changes in retail, shopping habits of customers, what was or wasn’t available in terms of produce or equipment and how the visit to the US influenced Sainsbury’s stores going forward.

An opening brochure for this exciting ‘Q-less’ branch explains to the customers: ‘As you go in, you are supplied with a special wire basket or ‘pram’ – to collect your purchases as you go round’.

The simple framework shape of the early trolleys was due to the need for them to ‘nest’ in order to save space and to make collection easier. The photo below of the new Harlow store in 1957 shows one early design.

Another great innovation came in 1973, following a spate of baby snatching cases, with the introduction of baby cradles that could be attached to trolleys so that there would be no need to leave babies outside the shops. You can read more about baby cradles in the September issue of the JS Journal from 1973.

In 1975, the Kempston super trolley was introduced, it was larger and quieter than previous versions with a special locking device to prevent trolleys running away. 

There is no surprise that trolleys were quite often taken beyond the store/car park perimeters and abandoned. In 1976 the company reported on the annual loss of over 5000 trolleys.

Sainsbury’s therefore introduced the trolley deposit schemes throughout the 1970s to help improve their safety record. This together with constantly improving their physical functionalities and grip helped curtail further losses.

In 1983 the company launched PVC trolley bags featuring a number of heritage designs. These bags were designed to be placed in an empty trolley at the end of the checkout and filled as the shopping was checked out, making shopping easier for the car owner. In 1983 they retailed at £2.95 per bag.

In 1994, the company introduced yet another innovation – ‘senior citizens’ trolley', which was very light and easy to manoeuvre and thus answered the special needs of some of the customers.

The designs were continuously worked on and improved, the main importance was to extend their longevity by using different material; improve its steerability and security. The article from the staff magazine  on 'The Standard Designoffers very insightful information about traditional design of shopping trolleys and how they are made. 

In 1998, the company introduced three novelty ‘theme’ trolleys in six stores. The trolleys, shaped like a steam engine, a fire engine and a double decker were called Puffy, Fizzle and Topper and were part of an initiative to make shopping more family and child friendly.

Trolley design is a very specialised job and although computer aided design is employed, much of the development work is forged in the craftsmen’s prototype workshop where new designs are being built.

As evident from this article, the archive collection isn’t short of lovely imagery featuring customers and trolleys over the years, so we are offering extra few of our favourites below.