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Traveling Around - Bentonville, Arkansas - Walmart Museum
Bentonville, AR, is a small town straight north of Ft. Smith, AR. It is home to the beginning of the super giant growth industry founded by Sam Walton, known as the Walmart Stores. The roads into the downtown area are good and very well marked with directions to the museum. Traffic was reasonable and parking on the city streets was easy on a Wednesday morning.
The entrance to the museum - inside the white building to the right in the photo - leads into what appears to be a small retail establishment. There is a lot of help there in identifying various sections of the "store" and the entrance to the museum. The general layout of the exhibits was explained and we were off to learn about Walmart.
The first area is one that contains a video theater. Two productions were running on the day we were there. One is a permanent exhibit that discusses Walmart and its beginnings. The second was a special exhibit having to do with the trucking system built within Walmart for the transportation of its goods.
The interior walls outside the theater area are covered with large mural-like signs that depict the growth of Walmart from its beginnings. That was Walton's 5 and 10 in Bentonville in 1950. That store is the site of the museum. The second store was in Harrison, AR, and by 1967, the company had grown to 24 stores and had what was then the gigantic sum of over $12 million in sales.
The growth is illustrated by these murals that cover a decade at a time.
It was in 1968 that it opened its first stores outside Arkansas both in Missouri and in Oklahoma. By 1975 there were 125 stores and sales had swelled to $340 million. The growth of the organization has continued to this day. The maps with a red dot for each Walmart or affiliate store have gotten so crowded it is sometimes difficult to ascertain just how many red dots there are in some areas.
The office where Sam Walton spent his office time is reproduced here at the museum. Apparently, though, he spent much of his time out in the field inspecting and encouraging the "associates" at the many stores.
That his family was important became obvious as we worked our way through the exhibits. The four children had been active in the business. John died, leaving his wife and son. Rob is currently active in the operation of Walmart and Alice and Jim are active as very large stockholders. Alice has been instrumental and its primary financial supporter in the establishment and management of Crystal Bridges Art Museum which is north of Bentonville.
One of Sam's continuing favorite possessions was alway a pickup truck. This one is displayed at the museum and is a reminder that Sam Walton was always interested in being just a common person. The museum illustrates that he tried to communicate with everyone he met on a level that an Arkansas farmer would appreciate.
Sam Walton was born in 1918 and died in 1992. Earlier in 1992, he was awarded the Presidential Medal Of Freedom by President Bush who said Sam Walton was the epitomey of American initiative and achievement.
There is a section of the museum that is devoted to a special exhibit that illustrates the commitment of the company to improve its delivery and transportation division. Two very satisfied long term employees talk at length about the way the company has treated them over the years.
The exit from the museum is through "The Cafe" pictured on the corner in the photo below. It is a ice cream / soda shop rather than a cafe and offers many regional ice cream concoctions in addition to ice cream cones and cups of ice cream. The prices are surprisingly moderate and Sharon couldn't resist a cup of butter pecan ice cream. It was still too early in the day for me but she claims it is never too early.
The hour or so that we spent at the museum was well worth it. We gained much insight into this explosively growing company and to the man that started it all just some 65 years ago.