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25 Years of The Walmart Museum

Two and a Half Decades of Sharing the Walmart Story

In 1990, KUAF reporter Kyle Kellams was just starting his regional radio news program “Ozarks at Large”. One of his very first features was covering the Grand Opening of the Walmart Visitors Center.

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The Birthplace of Walmart: The Ideal Showcase for the Walmart Story

What better place to share the story of Walmart than where it all began?

In 1950, Sam Walton opened Walton’s 5&10 on the Bentonville Square. Forty years later, the Walmart Museum opened with Sam Walton’s support and the efforts of a dedicated team of associates.

Walton’s 5&10 on the Bentonville Square in the early 1950s.

 
 
 
 

The Walmart Visitor Center when it occupied only the Walton’s 5&10 building in 1990.

 
 
 
 

The First Incarnation: The Walmart Visitors Center

The Walmart Museum, known as the Walmart Visitors Center (WVC) until 2012, was designed and operated with a focus on memorabilia and artifacts presented in cases created by Walmart carpenter Gene Lauer. It featured a large, elevated greeting desk in the lobby and a small assortment of souvenirs. For a time, the greeters, as they were called then, wore gray vests as part of their uniform until a more business-casual approach was taken later on.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   

Sam hands a letter to the sign installer putting the name “Walton’s” up on the Visitor Center pre-opening in 1990.

Sam banters with the crowd at the grand opening of the Visitor Center on a drizzly spring day in 1990.

Sam Walton and Governor Bill Clinton share a lighthearted private moment as Don Soderquist and David Glass address the crowd. Helen looks on from the left.

Governor Bill Clinton, CEO David Glass, and Sam get some relief from a spring shower under a pair of golf umbrellas at the museum opening.

The original Visitor Center staff. Standing (left to right): Harold Klein, Jim Sciabetta, Boo Randolph, Tim Cauldwell, Gene Lauer. Seated (left to right): Jean Clark, Minnie Moore, Betty Holmes.

Sam’s pickup on display at the Walmart Visitor Center in the 1990s.


 
 
 
 

Technicians work on the bed of Sam’s truck during the conservation process. The truck was drained of all fluids and coated with a protective sealant.

 
 
 
 

During the conservation process, the dents and scratches were preserved so the truck remained just as it was when Sam drove it.

 
 
 
 
   

Sam’s Passing and the Famous Pickup Truck

Then, in 1992, after Sam Walton’s passing, the WVC was expanded to include Sam’s famous pickup and more exhibits. Nobody wanted to risk driving Sam’s truck into the museum from the outside, but Betty Holmes got behind the wheel without hesitation and drove it inside. It remained there until 2010, when it was removed to undergo a process of conservation—not a restoration—to halt deterioration but include all the original dents, dings, and scratches.

Meeting the Needs of a Downtown Renaissance

In 2009, with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and a renaissance about to get under way in downtown Bentonville, the Walmart Museum moved around the corner into a temporary home on West Central Avenue. The time had come for a renovation and update to the exhibits and interactive experiences.


Discovery During the Remodel

Many things were discovered during the renovation, which took the original 5&10 building and the building it connected to—the Terry Block Building—down to its bare, original brick walls. During this phase, it was discovered that the 5&10 building is the oldest building on the Bentonville Square, dating back to the mid 1800s.

Temporarily located around the corner from Walton’s 5&10 signage and graphics are installed at the temporary Visitor Center in 2009.

 
 
 
 

Peggy Hamilton, museum manager and Walmart’s first female buyer, takes a phone call at the temporary Visitor Center.

 
 
 
 

Interior of the temporary Visitor Center.


 
 
 
 

During the remodel, workers discovered the original floor and ceiling tiles, plus a silhouette of the original 5&10 stairs.

 
 
 
 

Smoke damage, evidence of a fire from the 1970s, was revealed during renovation of the Terry Block building, one of two buildings that house The Walmart Museum.

 
 
 
 

Steel girders were installed to reinforce the Walton’s 5&10 building, the oldest on the Bentonville Square, dating back to the 1870s.

 
 
 
 

The front exterior wall of Walton’s 5&10 gets a face-lift as the remodel gets under way.

 
 
 
 

Sam’s 1979 Ford F150 returns from a rigorous conservation process, ready for permanent display in 2011.

 
 
 
 

Final touches are put on the remodeled museum’s exhibits the week before the Grand Re-Opening.

 
 
 
 
   

Renovations to the Terry Block building for the museum’s 2011 expansion. Office space was added on the second floor, and the archives temporarily occupied what would become the Walmart World Room.

A crowd gathers for the re-opening festivities on May 20, 2011.


 
 
 
 

Mayor Bob McCaslin cuts the ribbon at the grand re-opening. Looking on are Alice and Jim Walton, Susan Chambers, Tony Rogers, and others. Dog Friday basks in the sunshine.

 
 
 
 
   

Welcoming Visitors by the Thousands

With its grand re-opening in May of 2011, the museum’s rebirth came just months before Crystal Bridges’ opening in November the same year. As traffic increased to Northwest Arkansas and businesses around the square began to experience a renaissance, a new spotlight was on Walton’s 5&10 and Walmart’s history. Since then, annual visitor traffic has grown to 6 times what it was prior to the grand re-opening, and the 5&10 and Spark Café Soda Fountain have become popular locations for both tourists and the local community. Shopping at Walton’s 5&10 and gathering at the Spark Café have become part of everyday life for residents and visitors from nearby towns in the region.

Why the Name Change?

Sam had originally planned to name the museum The Walmart Museum. But after a trip to the Hallmark Visitors Center in Kansas City, he liked what they had done and decided to emulate their naming convention as well.

Over the years, however, the term “visitors center” was more widely adopted by state and local tourism offices than corporate museums. With Bentonville’s own visitors center right across the street from Walton’s 5&10, the move to change the museum’s name to “The Walmart Museum” came naturally. The name change made it crystal clear that it was a museum, clearing up a lot of confusion for out-of-town visitors. Approved by the Walton family and Walmart’s senior leadership, signage was created by Walmart’s internal sign shop—the same shop that creates the signs that light up on the fronts and sides of Walmart stores in the U.S.

Associates at the Sign Shop work on The Walmart Museum’s exterior sign.

 
 
 
 

Working at night, a crane truck operator positions the museum sign below the third floor windows.

 
 
 
 

The Walmart Museum sign lights up for the first time on the façade of the building, making the name change official and very public.