You Want Paper or Plastic?

Posted by on November 14, 2008

I was standing in line at the grocery store today and started thinking back to when I worked as a “bagger” in a similar place as a teenager.  As I checked out and headed for the car, I started thinking more about the whole concept of grocery stores.  Where the heck did they come from?  Who started the first one?

I really didn’t know other than some vague recollection about something in the 1920’s or 1930’s, so when I got home, I hit the research table—and found out some neat stuff!

Pioneer Grocery


While pioneer Americans probably dealt with their groceries in small places similar to the one above, it was an idea ripe for change.  One owner shops, small selections,  and high prices gave way to bigger selections and the fresher products of the “chain” type store.  While beginning in the Progressive era, the pace picked up via technology in the late teens, twenties and thirties.

One of the best examples of this is the Piggly-Wiggly chain of grocery stores.

Piggly Wiggly


However, as time went by, even these newer stores were already giving way to the era of the supermarket.  Bigger things were on the way!  In the article, Scrambling For Customers, the San Francisco Chronicle said this:

“…It all started with a king.  On Aug. 4, 1930, Michael Cullen dramatically changed the retail landscape by introducing the nation’s first ever supermarket in Queens, N.Y. He dubbed it King Kullen, inspired by a picture his son drew of a man sitting on top of the world….”



Modern refrigeration helped to hasten the progress of the grocery store as a mega-large location as well.  Frozen vegetables produced by Birdseye and others began to be commonplace in the open freezer cases of the store.  This frozen approach combined with the new technology was a cook’s dream–and with the advent of the TV dinner, the couch potato’s life of leisure!



The bigger grocery stores were also helped by the new American mobility.  While it’s a proven fact that Levittown and other suburbs helped to make the car what it is today, they also helped the growth of the grocery stores, as they sprung up around the suburbs, each newer, bigger and better.


While I can only put so much in today’s blog post, I’ve assembled a huge amount of links, both to video as well as print resources which can help you learn much more about groceries-probably more than you want to know maybe?  However, knowledge is good!  Take a few minutes and explore your grocery heritage!

Need Soup?



Have a great day!



Out of This World (Internet Archive)

Buying Food (Internet Archive)

The Front Line

The Quiet Revolution (Levittown)

Wikipedia: Supermarket

Let’s Go To A Supermarket (Kid’s Book)


(1)Image courtesy Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo; and F.A. Pazandak Photograph Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.  LOC: Prints & Photographs Division.

(2) LOC: Prints & Photographs Division

(3) Internet Archive: The Front Line

(4) Internet Archive: The Quiet Revolution

(5) Internet Archive: The Front Line

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