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Swimming Upstream

Building a Business

By the end of the 1960s, Walmart had a core management team and a dynamic plan for growth. In 1968, Sam attended an IBM computer class for executives to learn how to use this new technology in operating his business. The next year, Walmart purchased its first computer system to track sales and inventories. What’s selling? What’s not? What needs to be ordered, marked down, replaced? Sam also hired a full-time pilot to help scout locations for new stores and for distribution centers to keep the stores supplied. Walmart’s retail operations were up and running, ready to support an expanding network of stores.

Premiere issue of Wal-Mart World, January 1971.



Since then, the in-house magazine has reported stories important to associates, announcing their many accomplishments and initiatives.

The Discount Merchandiser magazine article on Sam and Walmart's rural approach to retail.


The first interoffice electronic message via teletype wireless exchange (TWX), sent from Walmart Store #1 in Rogers, Arkansas, to the Home Office, in nearby Bentonville.

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The Columbia Daily Tribune on Sam and Bud's visit to their birthplace to celebrate the opening of Store #163. In the article, Sam speculated that Walmart might "never catch up" to other retailers.

We started out swimming upstream, and it’s made us strong and lean and alert. … We sure don’t see any reason now to turn around and join the rest of the pack headed down current.
Sam Walton
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Sam's first plane, an Ercoupe Model 415-C. "I loved that little airplane," Sam recalled. "It would go 100 miles an hour."

An IBM data-processing computer at the Bentonville Home Office, 1972.

Sam always carried a small tape recorder or legal pad to keep track of ideas and inspirations that came up in his conversations with associates.

Weekly sales report for Walmart and Ben Franklin stores combined, December 31, 1966. Comments list the best-selling items for the week.

Letters between Sam and Rosemary Hager, a customer, regarding a discrepancy in price she found at two Walmart locations.

Toy replica of a Wal-Mart tractor-trailer truck, with the company's first logo.
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This Wilson tennis racket, obviously crushed by a heavy weight, came back with this explanation: "Customer could not serve well with it."

This outdoor thermometer was returned to a Walmart store when the customer complained, "It never had the correct time."

According to the defective-merchandise slip, this pencil sharpener was returned because it "doesn't sharpen any ink pens."

The customer who returned this hand mixer believed it was "possessed."


"Fishing rod torn—will not catch," complained the customer who brought it back. Walmart accepted the return.

Defective-merchandise slip for this toy set cites the reason for its return as "fishing pole didn't work—no fish."

This Stanley® vacuum bottle was made in 1954, eight years before the first Walmart opened. The customer returned it in 1983, claiming, "It leaks." The customer is always right: it did leak!

When customers thought of Walmart, they should think of low prices and satisfaction guaranteed … they wouldn’t find it cheaper anywhere else, and if they didn’t like it, they could bring it back.
Sam Walton