Donald Trump is fixated on a vision of masculine, blue-collar employment. But the retail sector has long had a far greater impact on American employment – and checkout-line technology is putting it at risk

The day before a fully automated grocery store opened its doors in 1939, the inventor Clarence Saunders took out a full page advertisement in the Memphis Press-Scimitar warning “old duds” with “cobwebby brains” to keep away. The Keedoozle, with its glass cases of merchandise and high-tech system of circuitry and conveyer belts, was cutting edge for the era and only those “of spirit, of understanding” should dare enter.

Inside the gleaming Tennessee store, shoppers inserted a key into a slot below their chosen items, producing a ticker tape list that, when fed into a machine, sent the goods traveling down a conveyer belt and into the hands of the customer. “People could just get what they want – boom, it comes out – and move on,” recalled Jim Riot, 75, who visited the store as a child. “It felt like it was The Jetsons.”

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