Sylvan Goldman and the Grocery Cart (1898-1984)
Little could young Michael Goldman have divined upon arriving in America as a Jewish boy from his native Latvia in the late 1800s that he was launching a saga which within one generation would constitute a classic American success story. Goldman raced into Oklahoma during the great Unassigned Lands Run of ’89. He settled south of there in Ardmore and opened a grocery store. In 1898, his wife Hortense gave birth to a son named Sylvan.
While in high school, Sylvan worked in his father’s and uncle’s dry goods store. He served in the U.S. Army as a food requisitionist during World War 1. After returning, he and his brother Alfred opened a dry goods store in Texas, then fortuitously moved to California.
There, they discovered a revolutionary new kind of American store—the supermarket. It offered shoppers a greatly expanded array of products under one roof. These included items heretofore featured not only in grocery stores, but in drug stores, hardware stores, and other establishments.
The Goldmans returned to their native Oklahoma and they brought the supermarket with them. They opened their first Sun Grocery (super) market in 1920 at 1403 East 15th Street in Tulsa. Within one year, they had opened 21 stores around the state. With Sylvan serving as the company’s president and Alfred as vice president, they continued to add and improve stores until they sold the chain in 1929 to Skaggs-Safeway Stores.
Five years later, Sylvan bought the bankrupt Humpty-Dumpty grocer chain. As chronicled by Julia Ann Pledger Dougherty, he reignited the company for roughly a half-century of success.
Meshing the strengths of old school people-oriented merchandising with nimble, imaginative ideas, he unleashed innovative advertising campaigns, superior employee policies and opportunities, and tenaciously competitive product prices. And he rolled out the invention that made him famous, the shopping cart. He built the Folding Basket Carrier Company to manufacture it.
Goldman’s creative imagination was far from finished. He also pioneered the grocery sacker, the handy milk bottle rack, and the folding interoffice basket carrier, according to Dougherty.
In his personal life, he carved a noble trail of service that included everything from being named honorary chief of the Pawnee tribe to co-helming building of the Oklahoma Blood Institute. Even more importantly, he raised two honorable and successful sons, and was the husband of one wife, Stillwater native Margaret “Babe” Katz, for fifty-three years.
As has been the case with other men blessed with great loves such as Sylvan had with Margaret, when the wife died first, the husband did not long survive her. Sylvan Goldman, Oklahoma pioneer and builder, lived exactly one week longer than did Margaret.
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
View the inspiring 2-minute preview video HERE.