Who Was Sam Walton?
Sam Walton loved to sell. Although he was only in second grade in 1925, he went door-to-door selling magazines to his neighbors in his Missouri town. He knocked on doors up and down his block, carrying a sample of the magazines he sold. Neighbors were amazed to see this little boy standing up straight and speaking clearly and proudly. He sold one magazine for a nickel. He sold another for a dime. Pretty soon, he figured out he should try to sell more of the ten-cent magazines than the five-cent ones!
It was not just magazines. Sam raised bunnies in his backyard and sold them as pets. He and his mother milked a cow in their backyard. They bottled the milk and cream . . . and Sam sold it.
As Sam grew up, he kept selling. He had a newspaper route and was always adding new customers. He worked in a small store that sold a little bit of everything. He worked in restaurants, providing food and drinks to hungry visitors. Sam also took odd jobs, helping people around their yards or making deliveries.
Sam’s family was not poor, but they were not rich, either. They certainly could use all the extra money that Sam could bring in. For Sam, selling was a way to help his family. It just turned out that it was something he was really good at.
It also turned out that what Sam probably sold best was himself. From the time he was a little kid, he was confident and friendly. He loved meeting new people, and he was never afraid to shake someone’s hand and say hello. He became a very popular person at school because he made sure to greet everyone he met with a big smile. Sam’s boyhood friend Everett Orr later said that Sam had something magical about him. “He made friends easily. People sort of flickered toward him, even when he was young.”
By the time Sam finished school, he knew he wanted to keep selling . . . and to keep meeting people. He opened the first store of his own in Arkansas in 1945. By the time he was in his late thirties, Sam Walton owned stores in many small towns in the Midwest. He made sure to visit them all, and he was always ready to shake a customer’s hand. There were no strangers at Sam Walton’s stores.
When Sam was forty-four, he started an even bigger version of his store, a new way to sell even more things to more people.
He called his new store Wal-Mart. Chapter 1: Farm Life
Samuel Moore Walton was born on March 29, 1918, in Kingfisher, Oklahoma. His family owned a small farm there. Sam’s father, Thomas, had lived on farms his whole life.
Sam later wrote that his father had been a great trader. Thomas loved making deals with people. Thomas once traded his watch for a pig to feed his family. He even traded other farms to get the one they lived on in Kingfisher!
Before Sam’s mother, Nancy Lawrence, married Thomas and joined him on the farm, she had gone to college for a year. Attending college was very unusual for women at this time. As her family grew, Nancy made sure that they knew how important education was.
Even though Sam was little, he helped on the farm. The family kept chickens, and Sam often gathered their eggs with his mother. The farm had pigs, too. Sam would feed them by pouring table scraps into their pen.
In 1921, Sam’s brother, James, was born. From the time James was a baby, everyone called him “Bud.” Sam and Bud did everything together.
Together, the boys played on the farm and helped with any chores they could. Thomas sometimes helped his two young sons ride together on the family’s horse, Trix.
Farming was a hard business, however. A lot of farmers struggled to earn enough money to stay on their land and keep farming. World War I had ended the year Sam was born. In the years afterward, sales of wheat, corn, and other farm crops slowed down.
During the war, American farmers and businesses had been successful, selling food and supplies to the US Army. After the war, those sales dropped dramatically. Many businesses and farms were forced to close. Thomas was having a tough time selling the crops he grew.
Thomas Walton had a big decision to make. Though he loved life on the farm, he had to make sure his family was taken care of. He was no longer making enough money from his farm.
Thomas had an uncle who ran a company that helped people buy farms. He decided to sell the family farm and take a job with his uncle’s company. Sam and Bud helped pack the car and the family drove to a new home in Springfield, Missouri. A year later, the family moved again, this time to the town of Marshall, Missouri.
Living in town was very different than living on a farm. Young Sam still wanted to help his family, though. On the farm, he had helped sell eggs and milk. Living away from the farm, he learned to earn money in other ways. In town, there were many more people living closer together. Sam thought that maybe there was a way to earn some money with all the new customers he now had as neighbors.
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