We live in an era of truly incredible wealth and vast inequality between the richest billionaires and every day middle-class people. The 50 richest families in the world have a combined net worth of $1.2 trillion. The Walton family is the wealthiest in not just the U.S., but the world, with a combined $247 billion net worth. A year ago, the family's collective net worth was $191 billion. Two years ago, it was $151.5 billion. It's not far-fetched to say that it is very possible that by the end of 2021, the Walton family may have a collective net worth of more than $300 billion. The Walton family's wealth comes, of course, from their family business, a little store you might have heard of called Walmart. The Walton family members are Walmart's largest shareholders. They hold more than 50% of the stock in the company. Walmart is the world's largest retail company with more than 11,500 stores across the globe.
The first Walmart store opened in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962. It was founded by Sam Walton. After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1940 with a degree in economics, Sam began his professional career in Iowa, as a management trainee for J.C. Penney. After about a year and a half, he joined the Army and was a member of the Intelligence Corps during World War II. When he returned to the United States, he bought a Ben Franklin variety store in Newport, Arkansas. He ran his store a bit differently than other Ben Franklin stores. He made sure his shelves were always full. As a result, he made about $225,000 in revenue. This got the attention of the former owners and when it came time to renew his lease, the owners instead bought the store back from him for $50,000.
Sam took that $50,000 and combined with a $20,000 loan from his father-in-law, leased another store in Arkansas. He wasn't taking any chances this time though, so he negotiated a 99-year lease. Within three years, he was bringing in $175,000, which was more than doubled the store's annual revenue from before he took over. During the 1950s, Sam expanded his growing retail empire to Missouri and brought his brother Bud into the company. The Walton brothers opened 16 more stores over the next eight years.
However, by 1962, it was clear to Sam that it was time for him to start his own store. He opened the first Wal-Mart Discount City in Rogers, Arkansas. He had an ingenious plan to grow the company. He opened his stores in small towns that weren't far from his regional warehouses. He stocked brands from American manufacturers. He started his own trucking company to move merchandise from the warehouses to the stores. Walmart made its IPO in 1972. By 1985, Walmart had 800 stores. In 1988, Walmart was the most profitable retail store in the U.S. By October 1989, it was the largest in terms of revenue. By the early 1990s, Walmart stores, which had once been limited to the South and lower Midwest, were located from coast to coast. The first Sam's Club opened in November 1989 in New Jersey. The first California location opened in July 1990 in Lancaster.
Sam Walton died on April 5, 1992, at the age of 74 of multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. At the time, he was running 1,735 Wal-Mart stores, 212 Sam's Club stores, and 13 Supercenters. Wal-Mart employed 380,000 people and earned an annual revenue of $50 billion. When Sam died, he left his stake in the company to his wife Helen and four children, evenly split. Roughly 50% of Walmart's equity is controlled by four people: Rob, Jim, Alice, and Christy Walton. Today, Walmart has 11,510 stores and 599 Sam's Club stores in 27 countries. Walmart is the world's largest company by revenue with $524 billion in 2020. Walmart is the largest private employer in the world with 2.2 million employees across the globe.
At the time of his death in 1992, Sam Walton had a personal net worth of $8.6 billion. That's the same as $16 billion today.