Shopping Innovations: The History of the Shopping Mall

The shopping centers, malls and plazas that we love today are modern adaptations of the historical marketplace. Malls are collections of independent retail stores and services, conceived, constructed and maintained by a management firm as a unit. They can include restaurants, banks, theaters, professional offices and even service stations. Several more innovations came around after the first mall was developed to make shopping easier and more efficient for both store owners and customers.

 

The First Shopping Mall 

The Country Club Plaza, opened by the J.C. Nichols Company near Kansas City, Missouri in 1922, was America's first shopping mall. It wasn't enclosed -- that came later. The first enclosed mall was Southdale, opened in 1956 in Edina, Minnesota near Minneapolis.

Giant megamalls weren't developed until the 1980s when the West Edmonton Mall opened in Alberta, Canada with more than 800 stores in 1981 -- as well as a hotel, amusement park, miniature golf course, a church, a water park for sunbathing and surfing, a zoo, and a 438-foot lake. 

The First Department Stores 

Bloomingdale's was founded in 1872 by brothers Lyman and Joseph Bloomingdale. The store rode the popularity of the hoop skirt to great success and practically invented the department store concept at the beginning of the 20th century.

John Wanamaker opened "The Grand Depot," a six-story round department store in Philadelphia, in 1877.

Wanamaker modestly declined taking credit for "inventing" the department store, but his store was definitely cutting edge. He created the first white sale, modern price tags and the first in-store restaurant. He pioneered the use of money-back guarantees and newspaper ads to advertise his retail goods.

 

Mormon leader Brigham Young founded Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution, familiarly known as ZMCI, in Salt Lake City in 1868. Although some historians credit ZMCI with being the first department store, most give the credit to John Wanamaker. ZCMI sold clothing, dry goods, drugs, groceries, produce, shoes, trunks, sewing machines, wagons and machinery – it had all types of “departments.”

The First Mail Order Catalog

Aaron Montgomery Ward sent out the first mail order catalog in 1872 for his Montgomery Ward business. Ward first worked for Marshall Field, a department store, as both a store clerk and a traveling salesman. As a traveling salesman, he realized that his rural customers would be better served by mail order, a revolutionary idea.

He started Montgomery Ward with only $2,400 in capital. The first "catalog" was a single sheet of paper with a price list, showing the merchandise for sale along with ordering instructions. From this humble beginning, it grew bigger, more heavily illustrated and chock full of goods, earning the nickname "dream book." Montgomery Ward was a mail-order-only business until 1926 when the first retail store opened in Plymouth, Indiana.

All these shopping innovations would be nothing, however, without carts and cash registers.

 

The First Shopping Carts

Sylvan Goldman invented the first shopping cart in 1936. He owned a chain of Oklahoma City grocery stores called Standard/Piggly-Wiggly. He created his first cart by adding two wire baskets and wheels to a folding chair. Together with mechanic Fred Young, Goldman later designed a dedicated shopping cart in 1947 and formed the Folding Carrier Company to manufacture them.

Orla Watson, of Kansas City, Missouri is credited with inventing the telescoping shopping cart in 1946. Using hinged baskets, each shopping cart was fitted into the shopping cart ahead of it for compact storage. These telescoping shopping carts were first used at Floyd Day's Super Market in 1947.

Silicon Valley inventor George Cokely - the same guy behind the Pet Rock - has come up with a modern solution to one of the supermarket industry's oldest problems: stolen shopping carts.

It's called Stop Z-Cart. The wheel of the shopping cart holds the device which contains a chip and some electronics. When a cart is rolled a certain distance away from the store, the store knows about it.

Harold Evans patented a shopping cart bumper system: a foam wrap-around unit that protects the cart while also providing valuable advertising space.

The First Cash Registers

James Ritty invented the "incorruptible cashier" in 1884 after receiving a patent in January, 1883 with John Birch. It was the first working, mechanical cash register. His invention came with that familiar ringing sound referred to in advertising as "the bell heard round the world.”

The cash register was initially sold by the National Manufacturing Company. After reading a description of it, John H. Patterson immediately decided to buy both the company and the patent. He renamed the company the National Cash Register Company in 1884. Patterson improved the register by adding a paper roll to record sales transactions.

Charles F. Kettering later designed a cash register with an electric motor in 1906 while he was working at the National Cash Register Company. 

The First Coupons

A Philadelphia pharmacist named Asa Candler invented the coupon in 1895. Candler bought Coca-Cola from original inventor Dr. John Pemberton, an Atlanta pharmacist. Candler placed coupons in newspapers for free Cokes from any fountain to help promote the new soft drink. 

The First Bar Code 

The patent for the bar code – U.S. Patent #2,612,994 – was issued to inventors Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver on October 7, 1952. 

The First Automatic Door

All this would be for naught if people couldn't get inside to shop. Horton Automatics' co-founders, Dee Horton and Lew Hewitt, invented the automatic sliding door in 1954. The company developed and sold the door in America in 1960. These automatic doors used mat actuators. AS Horton Automatics explains on its website:

"The idea came to Lew Hewitt and Dee Horton to build an automatic sliding door back in the mid-1950's when they saw that existing swing doors had difficulty operating in Corpus Christi's winds. So the two men went to work inventing an automatic sliding door that would circumvent the problem of high winds and their damaging effect. Horton Automatics Inc. was formed in 1960, placing the first commercial automatic sliding door on the market and literally establishing a brand new industry." 

Their first automatic sliding door in operation was a unit donated to the City of Corpus Christi for its Shoreline Drive utilities department. The first one sold was installed at the old Driscoll Hotel for its Torch Restaurant.