Imagine a time when teens were listening to Elvis on turntable record players, and every kid wanted a hula hoop. Families were eating hot new items called TV dinners while watching “Lassie,” “I Love Lucy” and “Gunsmoke.”
You may not want to go back to the days before computer gaming and smartphones, but I think we’d all like to go back to gas prices of the 1950s, which were — get ready for this — an average of 20 cents a gallon!
1950s styles looked very different from today, and so did Publix. The iconic art deco architecture of the 1940 Publix Super Market continued into the decade, giving each Publix its distinctive green marble and glass block design.
Speaking of style, uniforms were much different. Women wore uniform dresses, complete with aprons. Men’s uniforms weren’t quite as fancy; they usually wore basic white shirts and black pants. On special occasions, such as store openings, they wore ties with P-U-B-L-I-X spelled out vertically.
It wasn’t just the Publix associates who showed off their style. Customers got pretty dressed up too — from hats to high heels.
Without the conveniences and technology we enjoy today, there was no such thing as scanning. Publix cashiers rang up each item on key-punch registers. Every item in the store had to be individually marked with the price, and marking all those boxes, packages and cans took time. Of course, the stores were smaller — an average of 20,000 square feet — so there wasn’t the volume or variety of products we have available today. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Publix-brand items appeared on the shelf. Some of the very first Publix-brand products were green peas, bacon, coffee and eggs.
Despite humble beginnings during the Great Depression in 1930, in 20 years Publix had grown to 24 locations in central Florida. As the number of stores increased, so did Publix’s expansion into new cities. In 1959, we stretched across the state with a store in Jacksonville and a store in Miami. During the 1950s, we added 35 stores, bringing the chain to a total of 55 locations. The family of Publix associates grew to 3,000. (Compare that to 190,000 associates in 2017, and 230,000 associates in 2022.)
At the start of the 1950s, the original Publix headquarters in downtown Lakeland, Florida, moved to a seven-acre site in west Lakeland. George Jenkins opened his beautiful new 125,000-square-foot warehouse and office complex in 1951. He was preparing his team for a new decade of incredible expansion that was to come in the 1960s.