Sam Walton was born on March 29th, 1918 in Kingfisher, Oklahoma as the first of 2 children (His brother James was born in 1921.) to Thomas Gibson and Nancy Lee Walton. In 1923 the family moved from their Oklahoma farm to Missouri after their father decided that it didn't earn enough income to raise a family. There he returned to his old occupation, a farm loan appraiser.
Walton was ambitious from a young age. While living in Shelbina, he became the youngest Boy Scout in the state of Missouri to reach the rank of Eagle Scout at the age of 13. He would attent Hickman High School in Columbia where he played both football and basketball. As the star quarterback, he lead them to the state title in 1935. Not only was Walton athletic, but he also strove hard at his academics and became an honors student. He also was active in school politics and served as Vice President of his junior class, and President of his senior class.
Although Walton's school life was riding high, his family was just making ends meet and he and his brother worked hard to support them. He milked the cows, and then sold the surplus off to others, and after that was done, he would go and do his paper route. Despite his family issues, Sam would attend, by earning money through working as busboy, lifeguard, and selling newspapers, the University of Missouri, graduating in 1940 with a degree in Economics.
Sam's first job that gave him real-world sales experience was at JC Penny's, he would resign not too long after he joined as he waited to join the U.S. military. It was during that wait that he worked at a DuPont munitions factory in Tulsa, Oklahoma and met future wife Helen Robson. They met in April of 1942 and married on February 14, 1943. In 1944 they had their first son, Samuel Robson (Rob),followed by 3 others, John Thomas in 1946, James Carr (Jim), in 1948, and Alice born in 1949.
Walton enlisted in the U.S. Army and joined the intelligence corps and supervised security at aircraft plants and prisoner of war camps in the states. Following the war, Walton was honorably discharged with the rank of captain. In the fall of 1945, he purchased a store in Newport, Missouri with the help of $20,000 from his father-in-law and $5,000 saved from the military.
Walton's new store was Ben Franklin 5 and 10 cent variety store and part of a chain owned by the Butler Brothers who also owned a chain of small department stores. Walton's store eventually became the most profitable store in a 6-state area. Walton was able to achieve this through properly stocking all the shelves with a wide range of goods with very low prices, having later hours than most stores in the area (especially during holiday seasons), and experimenting with discount merchandising (buying straight from the wholesaler which enabled him to lower his price per item). The success of Walton's Ben Franklin store actually cost him the lease, as when the lease was to be renewed, the landlord refused, wishing to give the business to his son. Walton sold the store at a $50,000 profit.
Not to be outdone, Walton created a new Ben Franklin, just before the Newport store's lease was up, although he called it Walton's 5 and 10 cent instead. The new store was located in Bentonville and soon after, opened a new store 20 miles out of Bentonville in Fayetteville, however unlike the previous stores, this was his own and not a Butler Brothers' chain.
As he expanded, Walton kept finding new, innovative ways of keeping customers happy. One of these was something we all take for granted today, the checkout. He also had to keep his employees happy and gave them a share of the profits.
By 1954 Sam was opening stores with the help of his brother, brother-in-law, and father-in-law. It was also this same year that he opened a store in a Kansas City shopping mall. Although it was profitable, attempts in other places such as Arkansas were limited, and Walton returned to retail shopping stores and eventually opened Walton's Family Stores. Managers at the stores were given the opportunity to become limited partners if they invested in their store and then invest a maximum of $1000 in new outlets as they opened. The idea worked and by 1962, Walton's Family Stores had blossomed into modern-day Wal-Mart.
Walton died on April 5th, 1992, less than a month after receiving the Medal of Freedom from President George Bush, however, this wasn't before he was the richest man in America which occured in 1985.
Huey, John. Time 100: Builders & Titans: Discounting Dynamo: Sam Walton (December 7th, 1998)