What started as a small variety store in 1945 Arkansas grew into the largest company on Earth over the next eight decades, as Sam Walton leveraged bold ambition and a relentless focus on low costs and growth to build his fledgling franchise into a global retail empire spanning 27 countries.

Walton's obsession with increasing sales and market share fueled an aggressive expansion campaign that has made Walmart one of the most ubiquitous and influential corporations across the globe, transforming the retail landscape around the world.

Following the inspiring timeline of Walmart's evolution from humble beginnings to transnational titan over nearly 80 years, it has penetrated communities big and small and embedded itself into the fabric of daily life for billions.

EARLY YEARS (1945-1988)

portrait of Sam Walton
© History Oasis

"There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else."

—Sam Waltman


The year 1945 saw the dawning of an empire when a young and ambitious Sam Walton purchased his inaugural retail establishment, acquiring a humble Ben Franklin five-and-dime shop in the small town of Newport, Arkansas.

This modest franchise, bought with a $20,000 loan from his father-in-law, would prove the genesis of Walton's momentous career in commerce and set him on a path that would ultimately revolutionize the American retail landscape with his Walmart chain.

Though the Newport Ben Franklin store was but a small seed, it would in time grow into a vast retailing forest, with Walton the master planter tending carefully to his verdant commercial domain.


In 1962, an ambitious Sam Walton took the revolutionary step of opening the very first Walmart store in Rogers, Arkansas, planting the seed of what would grow into one of the world's largest and most iconic retail chains, transforming the landscape of commerce across America and beyond.


Walmart incorporates Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and has 38 stores and $44.2 million in sales by this year.


Walmart goes public with shares trading on the New York Stock Exchange.


Having conquered the world of suburban retail outlets, in 1983 the indefatigable merchant Sam Walton set his sights on a new target market with the launch of the first Sam's Club warehouse store in Midwest City, Oklahoma.

Catering to small business owners and enabling savings through bulk purchases, this innovative members-only cash-and-carry store established a blueprint for big-box discount shopping that would complement Walton's Walmart model.

Though starting with just the single Midwest City location, over the next four decades the Sam's Club concept spawned hundreds of warehouses nationwide, solidifying Walton's legacy as a retail pioneer.


As the 1980s drew to a close, Sam Walton—wanting to focus on broader strategic goals and international expansion while battling both leukemia and the normal afflictions of age—handed over the reins of CEO in 1988 to trusted lieutenant David Glass, who took command over day-to-day operations for the retail juggernaut Walton had founded and nurtured into a multibillion-dollar colossus spanning North America.

Though no longer chief executive, Walton remained an active chairman of the board and passionate visionary for his retail empire until his death in 1992.

EXPANSION ERA (1990-2005)

Walmart trucks delivering goods
© History Oasis

"Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it's amazing what they can accomplish."

—Sam Waltman


Expanding with breathless intensity throughout the American heartland, by 1990 Walmart set its sights on world domination.

Entering new territory as it inaugurated its premier California retail outlet, marking the company's emergence as a coast-to-coast monolith and soon to be global retail behemoth under the continuing guidance of founder Sam Walton before his death and subsequent legacy.

This key 1990 expansion across the continent presaged Walmart's rise into the world's largest company by revenue, transforming community after community with its aggressive superstore model.


Walmart expands overseas for the first time by purchasing a controlling interest in Mexican retailer Cifra.


Walmart purchases British supermarket chain Asda as part of further international expansion


Inheriting the reins in 2000 from the respected executive David Glass, new CEO H. Lee Scott stewarded Walmart's transformation into a leviathan at the dawn of the 21st century.

Overseeing sales that rocketed past $165 billion while the retail empire expanded globally, reaching over 5,000 stores scattered worldwide to generate more than $285 billion in revenue by 2005.

Walmart’s success that would have left even founder Sam Walton breathless at the majestic retail colossus built upon his humble Arkansas five-and-dime store of decades past.


An empty Walmart buildings
© History Oasis

"High expectations are the key to everything."
—Sam Waltman


Walmart announces environmental initiatives to increase sustainability.


As the second decade of the 2000s opened, leadership of the vast Walmart empire passed to veteran company man Doug McMillon, who assumed the CEO role in 2014 to shepherd the retail giant into a new era.

Building on the success of past CEOs like David Glass and Henry Lee Scott who had guided Sam Walton's humble five-and-dime into a sprawling multinational behemoth with over 11,000 stores and clubs worldwide.

Its late founder surely smiling from beyond at the magnificent empire constructed from that single small-town variety store.


Walmart acquires e-commerce retailer


Walmart acquires a 77% controlling stake in leading Indian e-commerce website Flipkart.


With breathtaking size and scope defining the modern Walmart retail empire, CEO Doug McMillon took steps to further streamline the company's global operations in 2022.

Completing full divestment from the Brazilian and Argentinian markets in order to redouble focus on core areas like the United States and China where the chain maintains an outsized footprint.

Though Sam Walton undoubtedly envisioned his company expanding across the hemisphere when he opened his inaugural five-and-dime in rural Arkansas decades ago, economic realities demanded a more targeted strategy, and so Walmart refined its approach to center efforts where existing stores and infrastructure allowed the deepest entrenchment.

While the company's departure from Brazil and Argentina marked an end to its ambitions in those countries, Walmart nonetheless remains a retail giant striding across continents to dwarf all rivals.



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