Piggly Wiggly

...Clarence Saunders self-service grocery store.


Piggly Wiggly, America's first true self-service grocery store, was founded in Memphis, Tennessee in 1916 by Clarence Saunders. In grocery stores of that time, shoppers presented their orders to clerks who gathered the goods from the store shelves. Saunders, a flamboyant and innovative man, noticed this method resulted in wasted time and man hours, so he came up with an unheard-of solution that would revolutionize the entire grocery industry: he developed a way for shoppers to serve themselves.

Despite predictions that this new kind of store would fail, the first Piggly Wiggly opened September 6, 1916 at 79 Jefferson Street in Memphis.   Operating under the unusual name Piggly Wiggly, it was unlike any other grocery store of that time. Shopping baskets, open shelves, no clerks to shop for the customer -- unheard of!!!


Click on small photos to enlarge


The first Piggly Wiggly Enter and leave thru turnstiles Self-service shelves

Piggly Wiggly Corporation, established by Saunders when he opened the first store in Memphis, secured the self-service format and issued franchises to hundreds of grocery retailers for the operation of Piggly Wiggly stores.

The original Piggly Wiggly Corporation became owner of all Piggly Wiggly properties: the name, the patents, etc., and Saunders began issuing stock in the Corporation. This stock was successfully traded on the New York Stock Exchange for some time, but through a series of stock transactions in the early '20s, Saunders lost control of Piggly Wiggly and had no further association with the company.

Piggly Wiggly Corporation continued to prosper as franchiser for the hundreds of independently owned grocery stores franchised to operate under the Piggly Wiggly name and over the next several decades, functioned successfully under various owners.

All in a Name
Saunders' reason for choosing the intriguing name Piggly Wiggly remains a mystery; he was curiously reluctant to explain its origin. One story is that he saw from a train window several little pigs struggling to get under a fence, and the rhyming name occurred to him then. Someone once asked him why he had chosen such an unusual name for his organization, and Saunders' reply was, "So people will ask that very question." He wanted and found a name that would be talked about and remembered.

Piggly Wiggly "Firsts"
Piggly Wiggly's introduction of self-service grocery shopping truly revolutionized the grocery industry. In fact, many of the conveniences and services that American shoppers now enjoy were introduced first by Piggly Wiggly.

Piggly Wiggly was the FIRST to…
  …provide checkout stands.
      …price mark every item in the store.
      …give shoppers more for their food dollar through high volume/low profit margin retailing.
      …feature a full line of nationally advertised brands.
      …use refrigerated cases to keep produce fresher longer.
      …put employees in uniforms for cleaner, more sanitary food handling.
      …design and use patented fixtures and equipment throughout the store.
      …franchise independent grocers to operate under the self-service method of food merchandising.

Vintage Piggly Wiggly photos...

1916 Piggly Wiggly

1928 Ad

1931 Opening -93 N. Main

Warehouse in Memphis


Piggly Wiggly Stores

The "Look"...

Logo today

Historical Marker

"First"... Today...


1924 envelope Token 1928 Ad 1928 AD Beale St

1923 Headquarters office


Introducing Clarence Saunders ...

Clarence Saunders was born in Virginia.  His family was poor and he left school at 14 to clerk in a general store.  By 1900, at 19 years of age, he was earning $30 a month as a salesman for a wholesale grocer.  In 1902 he moved to Memphis and formed a grocery wholesale cooperative.  This experience convinced him that small grocers failed because of heavy credit loses and high overhead.  From that time on, he sold for cash only and encouraged everyone to do the same.  

He began construction on his pink marble mansion in the early 1920s.  By 1923 he was forced into Bankruptcy and sold the partly finished mansion to the city.  Part of the grounds were sold off to developers who built the upscale residential development, "Chickasaw Gardens".

Saunders went on to his second million after creating the "Clarence Saunders Sole Owner of My Name Stores" .   It was very successful but by 1920 it was also in bankruptcy at the beginning of the Great Depression.


Saunders Horse

Pink Palace

Saunders car

Clarence - Woodland

Sole Owner

By 1937, Saunders were giving it a 3rd try by designing and constructing a completely automated store called "Keedoozle".  It was similar to a very large vending machine.  Unfortunately Saunders built most of the machinery himself and it proved totally unreliable.  By 1949, the business failed.

Until the time of his death in October  l953, Saunders was developing plans for yet another automatic store system called the "Foodelectric." But the store, which was to be located two blocks from the first Piggly Wiggly store, never opened.


Clarence - Keedoozle

 Keedoozle Demo

Patricia - Ann -Clarence

1917 photo

The Pink Palace

Very little is in print about Saunders private life.  He was a Methodist and had three children with his first wife Carolyn Walker.  They divorced in 1928 and he later married Patricia Bomberg, with whom he had one daughter.   One of the great homes he lived in was located at 1561 Peabody Avenue, circa 1918.  It's said this home had the first central vacuum system in the city and many other advanced concepts which Saunders included in his later homes.  This is Memphis.  That home has now been demolished.




Keekppzle Demo      

1929 Article


In February 2011, the descendants of A. Schwab listed the store for sale.  In December it was purchased by a group of investors led by Terry Saunders and other Saunders family members of Piggly-Wiggly fame.  The new owners hope to live up to a similar standard at Schwab's - "...to maintain the same nostalgic feel, but with more selection, art and music, that reflects the store's history and funky vibe".
Elliott Schwab, Terry Saunders, Audrey Joyner, Beverly Schwab and Lindsey Watson drink a toast.






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