Wal-Mart at 50: A Not-So-Short History Of the World's Largest Retailer

by Eric Francis  on Monday, Jul. 2, 2012 12:00 am  

• How fast can you turn that around? A fire causes extensive smoke damage to an Indiana Wal-Mart, rendering the entire inventory a loss. The store is emptied, cleaned, repaired and restocked and reopens for business in just six days.

• In April, Wal-Mart stock splits for the 11th and last time (to date). One hundred of the original shares purchased for $1,650 in 1970 would have grown to 204,800 shares worth more than $9 million.


• David Glass steps down as CEO to take up a board position, and the reins are handed over to H. Lee Scott, a man Glass had hired away from a trucking contractor to run Wal-Mart’s fleet almost two decades before. In the company’s annual report, Scott praises the strides made by the company’s International Division and notes, “We still have a tremendous amount of work to do in some of our new and emerging markets, but the lessons will make us better able to serve our customers in the future.”


• Grocery sales reach $56 billion, making Wal-Mart the nation’s largest food retailer.

• In June, six women file an employment discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart in a San Francisco federal court. It is certified as a class-action case in 2004, covering 1.5 million women who have worked at the retailer and making it the largest class-action suit in history. Wal-Mart appeals the class-action status and in 2011, the United States Supreme Court rules that the plaintiffs do not constitute a class.


• Forty years after its founding, Wal-Mart ascends to the top of Fortune magazine’s list of largest American businesses. With $220 billion in revenues for 2001, it surpasses oil giant Exxon Mobile with $212.9 billion. The other also-rans in the Top Five are General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and General Electric.

• From the annual report: “One morning last September, Shawn Saphore, assistant manager of Store 1591 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, climbed onto the roof in a rainstorm and refused to come down until Associates and customers raised $5,000 for the victims of the September 11 tragedy. The citizens of Harrisburg met the challenge so quickly that he upped the ante to $10,000 before crawling into a sleeping bag to brave a soggy 36-degree night. Cold, damp, but ecstatic, Shawn came down the next evening after learning the community had chipped in nearly $13,000.”


• An essay on Wal-Mart’s impact on global logistics in the transport of trade goods notes, “In a 2003 Fortune article Wal-Mart is described as ‘the company that almost singlehandedly made the bar code ubiquitous by demanding 20 years ago that suppliers use it.’” A report that same year at the Salon.com website notes a hacktivist group called Re-Code.com is providing print-your-own Wal-Mart barcodes so you can put a lower-priced item’s code on more expensive goods. Salon notes that the creators call it “satire” while Wal-Mart calls it “an incitement to theft and fraud.”



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