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Clarence Saunders at first Piggly Wiggly self-service grocery store, concept later developed into the first fully-automated grocery store, "Keedoozle" - Key Does All.
Barcelona Spain 2006 - automated grocery store.
Automated grocery store in Barcelona metro 2006.

Keedoozle was the first fully-automated grocery store, a vending machine concept developed by Clarence Saunders in 1937.[1][2] "Keedoozle" is a word coined by Saunders for a Key Does All for the grocery shopper.[3][4] The Keedoozle concept was intended to be a grocery shopper labor saving and cost saving device.[2] These groceries were offered at a cost of 10% - 15% below the going rate.[5][6] The Keedoozle store sold mostly dry goods at a half a penny to three cents over cost.[4] Saunders developed this concept from his self service Piggly Wiggly grocery store concept.[3]

Saunders' Keedoozle was a prototype for a store for automatic dispensing of groceries and registering the total cost at the pick up counter. Sample merchandise was displayed behind rows of little display cabinets of glass boxes. 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.[7]

Electric circuits caused perforations to be cut in a ticker tape attached to the face of the customer's key. The customers 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.[7]

The key-activated mechanism was not completely automated however. Their groceries were hidden behind stockroom walls and refrigeration units. Stock personnel had put their selected items onto conveyor belts physically that in turn moved to the cashier for check out. A mechanism added up the tally for the customer’s total bill. The shoppers picked up their groceries all wrapped up or boxed accordingly when they paid.[7]



The Keedoozle idea was too complicated, which led to its demise.[7] Technology was not available to handle the concept. 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.[7]

Another reason given for these failures was, It's too far ahead of the buying habits of the public. It was just too much for the average mind to grasp, too far in advance of the public thinking.[2] Saunders received posthumously the patent No. 2,820.591 issued in 1958 for the Keedoozle technology concept.[3]

The concept instead has evolved today into the self checkout shopping environment.[1] Historians say Saunder's concept was fifty years ahead of its time.[3] Some say the concept could likely return, The technology exists, and the mood in America is ripe for this concept.[6]


Three Keedoozle stores total were built. The first Keedoozle store was opened in Memphis, Tennessee, on May 15, 1937, by the Keedoozle Corporation of which Saunders was president. This first store closed after a few months because the mechanical technology was not capable of handling the high traffic loads. This store reopened in 1939 in the same location but failed again for the same reason.[4]

The third store built in 1948 was at the corner of Poplar and Union Extended in Memphis. It was open for a little over a year and also failed for the same reason as the first two attempts. This third and final store has since been torn down.[2]





  • Segrave, Kerry, Vending Machines, McFarland (2002), ISBN 0-7864136-9-7
  • Mayo, Anthony J. et al., In Their Time, Harvard Business Press (2005), ISBN 1-5913934-5-0


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