Museums Exhibits

Door from Walmart founder's first store to be donated to the Smithsonian

door walmart 1

 (Photo courtesy of The Walmart Museum)

The first store opened by Walmart's founder is getting the Julia Child kitchen treatment—at least a symbolic part of it. The iconic American brand has announced it will be donating the doors from Sam Walton’s first Arkansas outpost to Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Sam Walton opened his first Ben Franklin variety store in Newport, Ark. in 1945. After being in business for five years, Walton had to relocate when his landlord refused to renew his lease. According to the Walmart Museum, Walton relocated the store to Bentonville, and within the first year he was commanding impressive six-figure sales.

After the Arkansas store proved successful, Bud Walton, Sam’s brother, opened a second outpost in Ruskin Heights, Mo., a Kansas City suburb. In 1962, Sam Walton opened his first eponymous Wal-Mart after successfully managing nine Ben Franklin stores. At the time, offering low priced goods in rural communities was the main company focus.

Today, Walmart operates over 11,000 stores in 28 countries, under 60 different brands names.

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Yet despite its major global presence today , artificats from the early days of Walmart are few and far between, says Alan Dranow, the director of the Walmart Museum.

“We had absolutely no artifacts, nothing from that store because nobody held onto them,” Dranow told FoxNews.com. “Nobody knew that Walmart was going to be what Walmart became or that Sam was going to become what he became.”

Enter the doors from the very first Ben Franklin store.

According to Dranow, the doors were kept for decades in a warehouse by Gene Ivy, co-owner of the Arkansas-based contractor Ivy Brothers Construction. The company was charged with renovating Walton’s first store in Newport in the 1960s-- and the original doors have been kept in storage since then.

Ivy kept the doors in his garage after he retired. When he died in 2014, one of his grandchildren contacted a Walmart employee about what to do with salvaged store relics. The Walmart Museum, which first opened in 1990 as the Walmart Visitor Center, was more than happy to take in the prized store relics this summer.

But Dranow admits the doors have seen their share of wear and tear.

"Because Walton’s store was so popular he had more traffic than anybody. The door is worn on the side where you push to get in,” Dranow told FoxnNews.com. “They’re not really in great condition. Basically they were just stored and never touched.”

One door will live in Bentonville, and a second will soon be relocated to a place where millions of Americans can take in a bit of Walmart history every year-- the National Museum of American History in the nation’s capital. No specific date has been set for the door’s display—a representative from the Smithsonian would not confirm when the new exhibit will open--  but Dranow says the shipping process is now coming into place.

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“We’re preparing it [the door] for shipping because you can’t just ship it on one of our trucks,” says the museum director. “We’ve got thousands of trucks but this is not something you just put on a truck that’s shipping packaged product. It has to be shipped from an art shipper.”

Sam Walton died in 1992 shortly after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George H.W. Bush. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is now the largest retailer in the world with over two million employees and nearly $500 billion in revenue.

 

Willie James Inman is a Fox News multimedia reporter based in Jackson, Mississippi. Follow him on twitter: @WillieJames