The Walmart Museum
The Walmart Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas tells the early history of the global business and its founder, Sam Walton. Owned and operated by Walmart, the museum is housed in the original Walton’s 5&10, the store that began the Walton family’s retail empire. It contains multiple exhibits, a vintage toys souvenir shop, and an ice cream café. The museum has had over two million visitors since it first opened in 1990.
Backstory and Context
Company founder Sam Walton was born in 1918 in Kingfisher, Oklahoma. After serving in the military during World War II and marrying Helen Robson, he endeavored to make a career in the retail industry. In 1950 the Waltons moved to Bentonville, Arkansas where Sam opened a Ben Franklin franchise store that he named Walton’s 5&10. It proved successful and over the next decade he opened 14 stores. In 1962 Walton cut ties with Ben Franklin and established his own company. His first store under the name Walmart opened that same year in Rogers, Arkansas. The company grew steadily, spreading nationwide by the 1970s. Walton opened the first Sam’s Club in 1983 and the first Walmart Supercenter in 1988. By the 1990s, Walmart had become the nation’s top retailer, and had expanded internationally.
Sam Walton based his business model on purchasing goods in bulk quantities in order to sell them at low prices; he also focused on developing stores in small, rural communities, a market that remained untapped by other retailers. The growth of Walmart made Walton a multibillionaire and a household name. He became famous for his frugal lifestyle despite his wealth; he continued to get $5 haircuts, ate inexpensive meals from his local Walmart, and drove an old Ford pickup truck. In 1992, Sam Walton was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush; he passed away from cancer later that year. Today the Waltons are the richest family in the United States, collectively owning 50% of Walmart stock and over $100 billion.
In 1990 Walmart opened a museum inside the original Walton’s 5&10 in Bentonville, still home to the company headquarters. Originally it was named the Walmart Visitor Center, but later changed to the Walmart Museum. In 2011 the museum completed a two-year renovation, expanding to include the adjacent historic Terry Block building. The museum is comprised of three sections. There is the Walton’s 5&10 storefront, which includes the original floor and ceiling tiles. It sells a variety of vintage toys, candy, and souvenirs. The museum portion contains several galleries exploring the life of Sam Walton and the origins of Walmart. This includes a collection of Walmart pins; Helen Walton’s wedding dress; Sam Walton’s Medal of Freedom; his 1979 Ford F-150 pickup truck (a replica sits outside the museum); and his entire office, preserved to resemble the way it was when he left it for the last time. At the end of the museum is the Spark Café, which offers various drinks and ice cream flavors.
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