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June 24, 2020

Supermarkets in the Mid-20th Century Through Fascinating Vintage Photos

In the middle of the century, supermarkets began to dominate the task of supplying food to the nation's consumers and that affected farmers and consumers in both good and bad ways.

Supermarkets had actually begun in the 1930s but the Depression and World War II had slowed their growth somewhat. By the 50s, all of the elements to produce dominance came together.

By the 1950s, supermarket chains brought in about 35 percent of the food-retailing dollar – and food retailing was the America's largest business. By the 1960s, that market share jumped to 70 percent of the food retail business.

Supermarkets were also spending huge sums on advertising. Between 1950 and 1964, advertising for food quadrupled, a much greater increase than any other industry. One advertising practice came in for particular criticism, contests and trading stamp programs. By the end of the decade, those programs were suspended at most chains.

Take a look at these fascinating black and white photos to see what supermarkets looked like in the 1950s and 1960s.


  1. The young lady bending down to get something off the shelf next to her Mayfair Market cart (pic 14, I believe, from the top) looks like Jane Fonda. The clothing puts it in the '70s, so you never know. Otherwise, gotta love all those hair curlers in the first one, lol. And, oh, so many pearls in the others. When most gals used to dress up for the grocery store.

    1. She's Jane Fonda.

    2. I've gotten so sick of just wearing PJs all the time since I'm working from home during lockdown, I've dressed up to go grocery shopping. :)

    3. Thanks for looking, Ivaneck. Never even thought to try the same, d'uh. And, Andrea, I've seen folks wearing ballgowns to take out the trash these days, so anything goes, lol! My mother was a singer, so she was always wearing wigs at night. Her trips to the grocery store usually found her wearing the handmade sailor style hats made from beer cans. Aussie beer cans to celebrate our heritage :-)

  2. "Fascinating"? Hardly.

  3. WOOLCO (Woolworth Company) was not a supermarket. It was a discount department store along the lines of K-mart (S.S. Kresge). 16th picture down is probably from the early 40s and would be an example of the common grocery store of the era, not a "supermarket"

  4. My Mom never understood how anyone could go to the grocery store in curlers. She wouldn't be caught dead doing anything of the kind. Then again, she wouldn't even go to the mailbox without her hair and makeup done and dressed appropriately.

    1. A different era indeed. We knew it was time to get the heck out of Dodge when we were living in St. John's, Newfoundland, in the '70s and the highlight of our week was the drive-in on Saturday night. Dressing up, full makeup, hair styled, to go to the drive-in. Beam me outta here, Scotty!




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