I’ve been enjoying my pink Piggly Wiggly shirt from the Piggly Wiggly in Port St. Joe, Florida. It seems the friend who sent it to me let his daughter pick it out and she insisted on me having a pink one. I wear it proudly.
Growing up in the South, I knew about Piggly Wiggly grocery stores and how they could be found in many cities and towns in the southeastern part of the country. However, I never really knew about the origin of Piggly Wiggly stores and how the name “Piggly Wiggly” was chosen.
I still don’t.
No one does; the answer is perhaps in the question. Clarence Saunders, the fellow who opened and franchised America’s first true self-service grocery was often asked why he chose the name, Piggly Wiggly. His reply was, “So people will ask that very question.”
People keep asking the question and they always will.
Mr. Saunders opened his first store in 1916 in Memphis, Tennessee. At the time, if you needed things from the grocery store, you took in a list and handed it to a clerk. The clerk filled your order and sent you on your way. I’m pretty sure you weren’t asked, “Do you want paper or plastic?”
Saunders saw that the clerk filling orders wasted time and unnecessary expense; he decided to let the customers serve themselves. As you imagine, everyone predicted that this new novelty would fail. Why in the world would a customer want to tote around a basket and do their own shopping?
It worked then, and it still works. Mr. Saunders started issuing franchises and Piggly Wiggly grocery stores started popping up everywhere. With all of this success, the corporation that had been formed for the original store was a hot commodity.
Piggly Wiggly stock became publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange and folks were “wallering” in the success. Somewhere in the 1920s, the trading got out of hand or out of Saunders control you could say. This wonderful idea was taken or bought from Saunders and would be managed and controlled by a corporate entity.
Piggly Wiggly continued to prosper under the management of the corporation. Today there are still more than 600 Piggly Wiggly grocery stores operating in 17 states, there’s even one up in Wisconsin. The corporate headquarters is in New Hampshire and they will still sell you a franchise if you are interested.
What about the fellow who came up with the name?
Mr. Saunders kept coming up with innovative ideas and probably learned a little from his loss of “The Pig.” His next chain of stores would be named, “Clarence Saunders, Sole Owner of My Name Stores.” You can see what was on his mind. Unfortunately, the Depression put his new chain out of business.
In the late 1930s, Mr. Saunders kept trying to automate more things related to grocery stores, but had technical difficulties that kept giving him problems.
Even at the time of his death in 1953, Clarence Saunders was working on another automated grocery store system called the “Foodelectric.” This new store would have been only two blocks from Mr. Saunders’ original Piggly Wiggly in Memphis. The name makes me think of a vending machine. The Foodelectric never opened.
Mr. Saunders, his ingenuity and his American dream were way ahead of his time. When we see all the stuff moving and shaking at grocery stores, we ought to think about Clarence Saunders and how he built “The Pig” and kept inventing cool things up until the time he died.
Things change, but people often don’t realize that they began changing a long time before we thought they did.
As for me, I’m proud of my association with Port St. Joe, Florida and my pink Piggly Wiggly t-shirt picked out by a little girl who knew I would like it.
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