Welcome to the the first fully automated grocery store in the United States; a most futuristic shopping experience that the world just wasn’t ready for…
We’re in Memphis Tennessee, 1948, at the Keedoozle store, a vending machine concept developed by the man behind Piggly Wiggly, Clarence Saunders, who had patented the concept of the “Self-Serving Store” in 1917.
“Keedoozle” is a word coined by Saunders for a ‘Key Does All‘ for the grocery shopper. So here’s how it worked…
Sample merchandise was displayed behind rows of little display cabinets of glass boxes and shoppers selected their merchandise with a key given to them initially. Customers then put the key in labeled keyholes at the merchandise display and selected the quantity. Electric circuits caused perforations to be cut in a ticker tape attached to the face of the customer’s key. The customer then took the punched out tape to the cashier for processing The cashier would insert the tape into a reading mechanism that would electronically read it. That set off electrical and electronic circuits which started the goods sliding down conveyor belts and did the cost tallying in the process.
Sound complicated? Just a little?!
You’re damn right it was complicated, which is what essentially led to its demise. Contemporary technology just wasn’t able to handle the concept. And of course, it wasn’t a fully automated concept…
This is the backstage where the products were dropped into chutes by store employees. Circuits got mixed up easily and shoppers got the wrong merchandise. The conveyor belt system was not capable of handling such a high traffic load, especially at peak times.
Backstage, where the products a customer has chosen are traveling along the chute system.
Keedoozle automatic grocery store’s employee bagging a customers order and placing it on a conveyor belt.
Keedoozle automatic grocery store’s employee receiving a customer’s bagged grocerys.
Keedoozle was a prototype for a store but didn’t last very long before it closed because the machinery, much of which Saunders built himself (pictured above), was not capable of handling any high traffic loads. Nevertheless, he managed to sell twelve franchises and in 1949 he predicted: “In five years there will be a thousand Keedoozles throughout the U.S., selling $5 billion worth of goods.” Just over a year later, the Memphis Keedoozle closed for the last time.
So who reckons their local grocer should give this a go again?!
All images via the LIFE Archives