On July 2, 1962 — 50 years ago today — Sam Walton opened the very first Walmart store in Rogers, Ark. Little did he know at the time that he was laying the foundation for an American institution that would reshape not just the retail industry but the U.S. itself. Four thousand four hundred stores later, Walmart’s size and reach truly boggle the mind.
Walmart is the world largest private employer — only the U.S. Department of Defense and China’s People’s Liberation Army employ more people. Its 2.1 million–plus workers exceed the population of 15 states and the District of Columbia. Each week, more than 140 million Americans shop at Walmart, a figure that far surpasses the audience of the 2012 Super Bowl or the voter turnout of the 2008 presidential election. And though Walmart’s revenue — $443 billion for the latest fiscal year — is comparable to that of some of the world’s largest oil companies, it blows away its nearest retail competitors. Target’s latest fiscal year revenue was just shy of $70 billion. Charles Fishman writes in his book The Wal-Mart Effect:
“Walmart does more business by March 3 than Target does all year. Target doesn’t have a single store outside the United States; Walmart’s international stores alone generate almost twice Target’s total revenue.”
Not bad for an outfit that was no more than a lone outpost in small-town Arkansas just 50 years ago.
Of course, you don’t become one of the most powerful private organizations in the history of human civilization without turning over a few apple carts. Walmart’s relentless drive for efficiency has bankrupted companies, put downward pressure on wages and upset a retail culture that some believe was less efficient but more personal and aesthetically pleasing. In this sense, Walmart’s story is the story of American capitalism. It is the story of an unwavering pursuit of innovation and efficiency and the casualties of that pursuit.
There have been winners and losers in Walmart’s headlong march to the top, and along the way the firm has transmuted the global economy and the U.S. itself. Here are 10 ways that Walmart has changed the world.
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