Updated on 07.30.14

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Keedoozle Edition

Trent Hamm

I’m always fascinated by ideas that are attempted way before their time. My favorite one recently has to do with grocery stores.

In the 1930s (!), there was an attempt at opening a chain of fully automated grocery stores (called Keedoozle). In a Keedoozle, all of your dry goods were displayed in glass cases in the store and you could examine them by flipping a switch to rotate them. If you wanted the item, you merely put a paper “key” into the slot in the case, hit a button, and a special hole was punched into your key. When you were ready to check out, you took your “key” (which had punched holes for several different items) to the cashier, who ran it through another machine, which caused the items you want to come rolling down a conveyor belt to you and your total to be quickly calculuated.

In the 1930s.

Unsurprisingly, there were some significant technical issues with this, but beyond that, customers just weren’t ready or willing to do this at the time. It was just a step too far and the chain failed in the 1940s.

The funny thing is that we’re just now moving in this direction, with self-checkouts and other “new” ideas at grocery stores. Honestly, if it meant lower prices, I’d love it if a grocery store did things this way.

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  1. Jon says:

    Personally I am waiting to see entirely automated fast food restaurants. The food production is already entirely an assembly line process. We already know the food is highly processed and mostly unhealthy, so why not structure the places just like prepacked food factories? Can’t imagine it will be too long before the order counter is just a giant vending machine with touch screen monitors for ordering and paying.

  2. I love the Keedoozle name! Classic.

  3. jgonzales says:

    Jon, they have automated systems like that in other parts of the world, namely Japan. They only have employees to stock the machines and some have a person to run a register (and not that many have this employee). I’m more surprised the US hasn’t jumped on this concept.

  4. deRuiter says:

    There WERE automated fast food restaurants (serving real food, not fast food) in America in the 1930s through about 1960. They were the Horn and Hardard Automats! Wonderful places, with walls full of little glass windows rimmed in stainless steel mounted in the wall. You decided which food you wanted (tiny casseroles of the best ever mac and cheese, beef stew, spaghetti, chili, sandwiches, slices of pie or cake) put in nickels (later quarters) and turned the knob, the tiny glass door swung open at each food and you got your items, put them on a dark brown plastic tray, moved along to the huge urns of milk and put in your nickel, and the lion’s mouth poured milk into the glass which you had selected from the wire rack and placed under the spout. You picked up napkins and silverware, sat at a table, and ate your meal. It was all “automated”. The only humans you saw were the boys who cleared and washed the tables, and the lady with the beautiful long fingernails, laquered bright red, who sat at a chair and flicked coins to you on a slick surfaced wooden board after you gave her a dollar bill. The cooks and the serving staff worked behind the walls of tiny glass windows, preparing the food and putting individual portions (the casseroles in small, oval, dark brown or dark green Hall china casserole dishes, the custards in matching cuastard cups) in each window compartment. It may not have been “automated” like you’re thinking and the food was excellent, real food, wonderful cooking with real ingredients, but the Automat was a stab at automation. You can see the last vestiges of the Automat in Amsterdam on the main street near the train station, tiny hole in the wall places with the glass windows offering wrapped sandwiches and hot dishes. Not a patch on the original Automats with their wonderful food and appeal to children (certainly to country kids like us it was paradise!) but you can get the idea.

  5. deRuiter says:

    Please make that “Hardart”, made a typo in reply.

  6. GayleRN says:

    If you think about it each automated checkout means a cashier and a bagger without a job. I refuse to use them for just this reason.

  7. Karen says:

    I hate the self check out at grocery stores….if I have to do it myself then I should receive a discount….plus it never fails I always have a problem when I do it myself

  8. Squawkfox says:

    Thank you for the link and mention Trent. Now about those grocery store self check-outs — I never use them. Our local grocery store offers several of these “scan yourself” aisles. These aisles are usually empty and there is no one in these stalls to correct a incorrectly scanned item. Who wants to pay full price for a sale item AND scan it yourself?

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