Born in 1918 on a farm in Oklahoma, Sam Walton grew up during the Great Depression. He graduated from the University of Missouri and began his lifelong career in the retail store business in 1940 as a sales trainee at JCPenney.
In 1941, he enlisted in the US Army to serve in World War II. The army stationed him in Oklahoma, where met Helen Robson at a department store, and the couple got married in 1943 on Valentine’s Day.
When the war was over in 1945, Sam purchased his first Ben Franklin variety store, a Butler Brothers of Chicago franchise division. As the story goes, he put up $5,000 of his own money and borrowed $20,000 from his father-in-law to seal the deal.
After five years in the retail franchise, Sam hit a snag with the Butler Brothers. They refused to renew his rental lease, and Sam got kicked out of his own store. Eager to start afresh and do things right, he searched for a new store to buy. He found a small variety store and signed a 99-year lease in Benton, Arkansas. In 1950, Sam opened his second store and called it Walton’s Five and Dive.
By the time Sam established Walton Enterprises in 1953, he had over fifteen retail stores open in Arkansas and surrounding areas.