Sam Walton: The Man Who Started Walmart

Sam Walton

Samuel M. Walton (1918-1992) was born in Kingfisher, Oklahoma. He was the founder of the retail giant Walmart, a company he started with a single store. It would eventually become the world’s largest corporation. Sam Walton was motivated businessman who went against convention, proving that large discount stores could survive in rural areas. 

Walton’s first retail job was with the J.C. Penney in Des Moines. He also became an Army captain in intelligence during World War II. When he returned to civilian life in 1945, he used a loan from his father-in-law to purchase his first store, a Ben Franklin franchise in Newport, Arkansas. In less than two decades, Walton and his brother, James, continued to expand their holdings until they had fifteen Ben Franklin stores. Against the wishes of Ben Franklin’s management, Sam wanted to develop in more rural areas, so he decided to venture out on his own.

In 1962, Walton opened his first Walmart store in Rogers, Arkansas. Success came quickly. By 1976, Walmart was worth over $176 million. The company’s stock jumped to $45 billion in the early 1990’s and Walmart soon surpassed Sears to become America’s largest retailer. Walmart began to dominate the retail market so well that many local merchants and residents began complaining that Walton’s big box stores were wiping out smaller retailers in the community. 

Sam Walton was a hard worker who would begin his work days at 4:30 in the morning. He demanded results from those beneath him, and would change direction or personnel when things didn’t work as he wanted. He enjoyed hunting and the great outdoors. Despite his success and massive accumulation of wealth, he was known to live rather simple and a humble person. When Forbes magazine declared that he was the wealthiest man in the United States, he remarked that “all that hullabaloo about somebody’s networth is just stupid.” He drove a red 1985 Ford pickup, not exactly a vehicle that expresses wealth. Him and his wife continued to live in the Bentonville, Arkansas home they bought in 1959. He died of cancer at a hospital in Little Rock.