Sam Walton

Walton, Sam (Samuel Moore Walton), 1918–92, American retailing executive, b. Kingfisher, Okla. After 17 years of operating franchise retail stores, he opened the first Wal-Mart Discount City in Rogers, Ark., in 1962. Walton developed Wal-Mart into a chain of massive, centrally controlled stores that were typically sited in small towns and rural areas. The stores featured heavy discounting, smaller profit margins than usual coupled with higher-volume sales, and a customer-oriented staff. Wal-Mart flourished, went public in 1970, and by 1991 had become a multibillion-dollar business and America's largest retailer. Walton, who stepped aside as chief executive of the company in 1988 but remained active in its management, was by 1985 the wealthiest person in the United States.

See his autobiography (1992); biography by B. Ortega (1998).

His youngest child is philanthropist Alice Louise Walton, 1949–, b. Newport, Ark., grad. Trinity Univ., San Antonio, Tex. (B.A., 1971). Using funds from a personal fortune estimated at more than $20 billion, Walton became a serious art collector, focusing on American works, and used her collection to found the Crystal Bridges Museum (opened 2011) in her hometown of Bentonville, Ark. The museum, which has a large endowment, includes American art from the Colonial period to contemporary times.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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