Sam Walton Biography
Sam Walton was born on March 29, 1918 in Kingfisher, Oklahoma. He lived there on his family's farm until 1923, when his father decided to become a mortgage man. The family moved to Missouri, where they hopped from town to town over the next several years. While in 8th grade, Sam earned the Eagle Scout Award, becoming the youngest Boy Scout in the state's history to do so.
Walton was very active in high school athletics, participating in both basketball and football. While attending Hickman High School in 1935, he served as the team's quarterback and helped them win the state title. In his senior year, he also served as president of the student body.
Walton also worked a variety of jobs to help his family to make ends meet. His family had a cow that he would milk every day and sell extra bottles to neighbors. He also worked as a delivery boy for the town newspaper.
After high school, Walton started taking classes at the University of Missouri in Columbia. There, he majored in economics and joined the ROTC. While in college, he worked as a waiter and other odd jobs to help pay tuition. He also joined Beta Theta Pi and Alpha Kappa Psi.
After graduating from college, he got a job as a management trainee at a JCPenney store in Des Moines, Iowa. The pay was only $75 a month, but it paid the bills and helped him get management experience. In 1942, he resigned and found a job at a DuPont munitions plant in Oklahoma. It was there that he met a woman named Helen Robson, whom he married on February 14, 1943.
In 1943, Walton signed up for the US Army Intelligence Corps. He spent most of the war supervising security operations at various aircraft plants and POW camps, never leaving the United States. In 1945, he left the military with the rank of captain.
After leaving the military, he decided that he wanted to start a department store. He borrowed $20,000 from his father-in-law and with $5,000 from his own savings he leased a Ben Franklin variety store in Newport, Arkansas. Walton quickly transformed the store into one of the most popular in the area by getting large wholesale discounts through volume. In 1951, however, Walton was forced to sell everything back to the landlord for $50,000.
Walton next purchased a variety store in Bentonville, Arkansas, naming it "Walton Five and Dime". The store was profitable and he became a fixture in the community by serving as president of the local Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce. He was also elected as a member of the city council and served on the hospital's board of directors.
With the success of this store, he expanded and opened another store in Fayetteville, Arkansas in 1952. Walton then recruited a young manager named Willard Walker to manage the store under a profit sharing program. Walton also proceeded to consolidate the various check out counters in his store into one or more counters located towards the front of the store.
Walton then recruited his family members, including his brother, father-in-law, and brother-in-law, into the business. In 1954, he experimented with smaller stores in shopping malls, but after only marginal successes decided to concentrate on larger retail businesses. By 1962, Walton and his brother owned sixteen different stores in the states of Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas.
In 1962, Walton started the first Wal-Mart in Rogers, Arkansas. The chain quickly expanded and has since become the world's largest retailer. Wal-Mart has been criticized for its lack of benefits for employees and usage of overseas labor, but many people seem to love the low prices offered by the stores. Walton also started another chain of stores geared towards small businesses called "Sam's Club".
In 1985, Walton founded a program for stemming communism in Central America by providing students from that area with scholarships to schools in the United States. From 1985 through 1988, he was listed as the richest person in the United States. Walton later gave the company to his children, all of whom are currently on the Forbes list of richest Americans.
Sam Walton died on April 6, 1992 of natural causes.
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