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.
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.