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(1 cu. ft.: 2DB; 1 O/S Fldr.)

by: Jeanne Sklar, 2000


The first shopping cart in the United States was developed in the late 1930s and patented by Sylvan Goldman of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Goldman received US Patent 2,155,896 in April 1939 for a "combination basket and carriage" and in April of 1940 he received US Patent 2,196,914 for a "folding basket carriage for self-service stores." Goldman's cart consisted of upper and lower baskets placed atop a folding frame similar to that of a folding chair with wheels. Following use, the baskets would be removed and stacked with others and the frame folded. Prior to each use the baskets and the frame needed to be assembled.

In 1946, Orla E. Watson, of Kansas City, Missouri, devised a plan for a telescoping shopping cart which did not require assembly or disassembly of its parts before and after use; this cart could be fitted into another cart for compact storage, hence the cart descriptor. The hinged side of the baskets allowed the telescoping. Watson's Western Machine Company made examples of this invention, and the first ones were manufactured and put to use in Floyd Day's Super Market in 1947.

Alongside the telescoping cart, Watson developed the power lift which raised the lower basket on the two-basket telescoping cart to counter height while lifting the upper basket out of the cashier's way at the check out counter. This made moving groceries, before the invention of the automatic conveyor belt, easier for the customer and the cashier. Watson manufactured and sold the power lift in 1947, but then discontinued efforts on the invention to focus on the telescoping cart. The patent application was abandoned and never granted.

The manufacturing, distribution, and sales of Watson's telescoping carts was handled by Telescope Carts Inc., established in 1947 by Watson, his partner, Fred Taylor, and George O'Donnell. The company had difficulty with the manufacture and sale of the carts, as authorized suppliers were not making carts of the quality expected. Other manufacturers saw an opportunity, and soon telescoped carts were being made and sold by unlicensed parties despite Watson's pending patent.

Watson applied for a patent on his shopping cart invention in 1946, but Goldman contested it and filed an application for a similar patent. In 1949 Goldman relinquished his rights to the patent and granted them to Watson. In exchange, Goldman received licensing rights in addition to the three other licenses previously granted; Watson continued to receive royalties for each cart produced.

The royalties Watson received for each cart manufactured led to his 1954 claim against the Internal Revenue Service, for refund of taxes paid on the profits of his invention, as a Congressional bill changed the status of invention-derived income from ordinary income to capital gains, thereby lowering the taxes owed.

Orla E. Watson was born in 1896, and after attending Nevada Business College for one year, he worked as a stock clerk in a hardware store in Kansas City, then joined the Army until 1918, when he entered a series of jobs as machinist, layout man, forman. He tinkered with mechanical inventions on the side (such as a Model T Ford timer). In 1933, he opened his own business making air conditioners, but he took two more jobs before opening Western Machine Co., a machine shop and contract manufacturing business in 1946.

He had also applied for and was granted four patents prior to the telescoping shopping cart, for mechanical valves, pumps, and gauges, none of which were ever licensed or manufactured.

Orla E. Watson died January 17, 1983.

Scope and Content Note

The Telescoping Shopping Cart Collection, 1946-1983; 2000, provides information relating to the development of the product and the legal challenges encountered by its creator, Orla E. Watson, in the patenting, licensing, and manufacturing process.

The collection is divided into three series: Series 1, Background Information, 1983;2000; Series 2, Business Records, 1946-1979; and Series 3, Legal Records, 1946-1966.

Series 1, Background Information, 1983;2000, contains two items, a document entitled "A Brief History of the Telescopic Grocery Cart," authored by Leslie S. Simmons, personal representative, Edith Watson estate, 2000, and Orla E. Watson's death certificate, 1983.

Series 2, Business Records, 1946-1979, contains information on the finances and operations of Telescope Carts, Inc. and the development and marketing of the telescoping cart. Materials include royalty and income tax statements of Orla E. and Edith Watson, business correspondence, a time line of cart development, blueprints, patents, details about the patent process, and marketing and publicity materials of brochures and photographs.

Series 3, Legal Records, 1946-1966, contains material relating to the manufacture and licensing of telescope carts, and legal challenges to both the company and Orla E. Watson, including the challenges to the patent process spearheaded by Sylvan Goldman, and the evidence collected for Watson's claim for a tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service.

Related Collections

The National Museum of American History's Division of Cultural History houses original shopping carts created by Sylvan Goldman and Orla E. Watson. The two telescoping Watson carts were donated in July 2000 by Leslie S. Simmons, personal representative, Edith Watson estate.


The collection was donated to the National Museum of American History in July, 2000, by the estate of Edith Watson, through Leslie S. Simmons, personal representative.

Container List

Box Folder
Series 1, Background Information, 1983; 2000
1 1 A Brief History of the Telescoping Grocery Cart, 2000
1 Orla E. Watson Death Certificate, 1983
Series 2, Business Records, 1946-1979
Subseries 1, Financial Records, 1950-1968
2 Royalty and Income Tax Statements of Orla E. and Edith Watson, 1948-1968
3 Telescope Carts Trust, n.d.; 1947; 1950; 1953-1965
Subseries 2, Operations, 1946-1953
4-5 Business Correspondence, 1946-1948; 1950; 1963
6 Manufacturing, 1946
Subseries 3, Development, 1946-1979
7 Time line, 1946-1947
8 Blueprints and Sketches, n.d.; 1948
O/S Fldr. 1 Blueprint, 1947
2 1 Patents, 1949-1950; 1956-1957
2 Patent Process and Challenges, n.d.; 1946-1950; 1953-1954; 1979
Subseries 4, Marketing and Publicity, 1947-1977
3 Promotional Materials, n.d.; 1947-1948
O/S Fldr. 1 Newspaper Advertisements, 1947
2 4 Product Information Inquiries, n.d.; 1947-1948
5 Background Articles, n.d.; 1947; 1950; 1975; 1977
6 Photographs, n.d.; 1947-1948
Series 3, Legal Records, 1946-1966
7 Contracts, Licensing, and Fee Agreements, n.d.; 1946-1954; 1960-1966
8 Income Tax Refund Claim, 1947-1957
9 Legal Briefs, n.d.; 1950-1953
10 U.S. District Court Evidence, 1954
O/S Fldr. 1 U.S. District Court Evidence, 1954
2 11 Sworn Statements and Depositions, 1947; 1949; 1954


Revised: June 7, 2011