Samuel Moore “Sam” Walton was born on March 29, 1918, to Thomas Gibson Walton and Nancy Lee in Kingfisher, Oklahoma. In 1923, Thomas had to move his family to find another line of work because farming was not feeding his family. After the move, Thomas Walton worked as an agent for his brother’s insurance agency where he foreclosed on farms during the Great Depression.
During the Great Depression, Sam did whatever he could to help his family make ends meet. He would milk the family cow, then bottle the surplus which he drove to customers. After he did that, he would deliver the Columbia Daily Tribune and sell magazine subscriptions.
While Sam was in high school, Thomas Walton moved his family several more times. Sam was always very active in the Boy Scouts, and in the eighth grade, he became the state of Missouri’s youngest Eagle Scout ever. When Sam graduated high school, he was voted “Most Versatile Boy.” As an adult, he also received the Distinguished Eagle Scout award from the Boy Scouts of America.
After Sam graduated high school, he attended the University of Missouri as a ROTC cadet. While Sam was in college, he made a living doing whatever he had to do to survive, including waiting tables in exchange for meals. After getting used to the college life, he joined the Zeta Phi Chapter of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity.
Once Walton graduated from college, it took him only three days to get hired on as a management trainee at J.C. Penney in Des Moines, Iowa. While a trainee, he was paid 75 dollars per month and Walton stayed with this job for 18 months. Early in 1942, Walton resigned from J.C. Penney in anticipation of being drafted in to the military. While he was waiting for his draft notice, he took a job at DuPont Munitions Plant in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Walton married Helen Robinson on February 14, 1943. They remained married for the duration of their lives. They had four children together: Samuel Robinson, born in 1944, John Thomas, born in 1946, James (Jim) Carr, born in 1948 and Alice Louise, born in 1949. Sam and his wife, Helen, were always very active members in the Bentonville Church of Christ.
When Walton did join with the military, he was assigned to Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, Utah. He joined the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps, where he was in charge of supervising the security at aircraft plants as well as prisoner of war camps. While in the military, Walton rose to rank of captain.
After leaving the military in 1945 at the age of 26, Walton managed a variety store. Walton purchased a Ben Franklin Variety Store in Newport, Arkansas for twenty-five thousand dollars. Twenty thousand of that came from his father and the other five thousand came from his time in the military. Walton grew sales in the store from eighty thousand dollars a year, when he took it over, to two hundred twenty-five thousand in just three years.
After Walton had been at the location for three years, the landlord, P.K. Holmes, wanted to give that location to his son instead of renewing Walton’s lease on the store. P.K. Holmes had a lot of respect for Walton and what he was doing, so Holmes decided to purchase all of Walton’s inventory for fifty thousand dollars, which Walton considered a fair price.
Once Walton was forced out of his current location, he moved to a new location in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas. Before Walton purchased the downtown Bentonville store, it was doing seventy-two thousand in sales. After he purchased it, the sales increased each of the first three years he ran it. The sales jumped from seventy-two thousand when he purchased it to one hundred five thousand the first year, to one hundred forty thousand the second year and to one hundred seventy-five the third year.
Even though Sam Walton was having success at his new store this was a very tough time for him. He still had his family and home several hours away in Newport, Arkansas. However, he never lost his enthusiasm to open more Ben Franklin franchises. Walton went on to open several variety stores, including 15 Ben Franklins and 1 independent variety store. When Walton opened these stores, he encouraged the store managers to own a piece of their own store by investing money into it. This way he felt that the store managers would be more invested in the day-to-day operations of the store.
Sam Walton opened his first Wal-Mart on July 2, 1962. The Wal-Mart Discount Store was located at 719 West Walnut Street in Rogers Arkansas. Once he opened his Wal-Mart Store, Sam Walton made a determined effort to market American-made products. In order to do this, he had to be able to find manufacturers that could sell products cheap enough to compete with the foreign competition.
Looking for methods to improve his store, Sam Walton got an idea from another chain of stores called Meijer. Walton got the idea for his one-stop shopping concept from Meijer which he then used in his own store.
Another thing that helped Wal-Mart continue to thrive was the location of the stores. Walton liked to put his store in small towns and not in large cities. This allowed people in smaller towns to have simple access to everyday supplies. Due to the fact that all the Wal-Mart stores were located in smaller areas, a strong distribution network became imperative. He would make sure to locate all of his stores within a one-day drive of a Wal-Mart regional warehouse. All the Wal-Mart products were shipped through its own trucking network, as well. Along with an efficient delivery system, Wal-Mart also buys in extremely large volume. This allows for deep sales and discounts on brand-name items. Using this method, Wal-Mart grew from 190 stores in 1977 to 800 in 1985.
Sam and his wife, Helen, were always very active in the Bentonville Church of Christ and in the community in general. In 1992, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Walton always believed that the most important reason for the success of Wal-Mart was the associates. They were the only ones with direct contact with the customers, and he always shared his vision for the company with his associates.
Sam Walton passed away on April 5, 1992, at the age of 74 from Multiple Myeloma. At the time of his death, his company employed three hundred eighty thousand people, seventeen hundred thirty-five Wal-Mart locations, two hundred twelve Sam’s Club locations and thirteen Wal-Mart Supercenters. In 1998, he was included in Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the 20th Century. Forbes also listed Walton as the richest person in the U.S. from 1982-1988. Sam Walton was a man who lived a normal life, drove a Ford F-150 Pickup and lived in the same house since 1959, despite the fact that he was one of the most powerful and influential people of the century.