Walmart Founder’s 1979 Ford F-150 Is One Big Slice of Americana
Nothing symbolizes the American dream quite like this F-150 owned by retail king Sam Walton and on display at the Walmart Heritage Museum.
Perhaps nothing better exemplifies the American dream than the humble pickup truck. After all, we’re talking about something that was invented, built, and forged deep within the fabric of this country’s very culture. If you want to put a finger on the most iconic pickup truck ever built, that might prove to be a more difficult task. But we’d argue, with no doubt in our minds, that you’re looking at it right here. The most quintessential truck on the planet is Sam Walton‘s 1979 Ford F-150. And Ford Truck Enthusiasts got to check it out up close during a recent visit to Arkansas’ Walmart Heritage Museum.
This is the truck that America’s king of retail bought new in 1979, when the founder of Walmart could have chosen to buy anything he wanted. And as the years went on and his fortune multiplied, Walton refused to give up on his 1979 Ford F-150. In fact, he drove it until the day he died, back in 1992. After all, this was a modest man who never forgot his roots. But he was also an incredibly intelligent man with a quick wit. A man who realized the value of something built with an eye toward quality.
“Sam was a practical man, and liked the utility and versatility he got out of his Ford truck,” said Alan Dranow, senior director, Walmart Heritage Group. “He loved that thing, and it embodied the practicality and frugality that was part of his business and personal life.”
Many couldn’t understand why Walton drove an old truck instead of something flashy or expensive, like most mega corporation owners and CEOs. When asked why he chose a truck when he could drive anything he wanted, Walton produced one of his most famous quotes. “I just don’t believe a big showy lifestyle is appropriate. Why do I drive a pickup truck? What am I supposed to haul my dogs around in, a Rolls Royce?”
Thus, it’s easy to drawn parallels between Walton and another great American businessman – Henry Ford. Both are widely heralded for their business acumen and vision. Both built their legacies on the foundation of traditional American values. Each sought to improve the lives of all Americans by offering affordable products and subsequently reducing the cost of living. Both came from modest upbringings and grew up on farms in rural areas.
Thus, Walton wasn’t concerned with the dents and dings he accumulated on his 1979 Ford F-150 over the years. If nothing else, those imperfections only further solidified his legend. The avid outdoorsman and hunter was known to take his dogs everywhere with him. And even though he had a dog box installed in the bed, they often rode in the cab with him as he visited Walmart stores. Hence, you can still see where one of his favorite pups, Ol’ Roy, used his steering wheel as a chew toy.
“Sam simply loved to drive a truck, that’s all,” explained Walton’s wife, Helen. “During hunting season, he could come home, pick up his dogs, and off he would go. He loved that.”
Today, Walton’s truck lives on as a symbol of his humility and humble nature. Its new, permanent home is the Walmart Heritage Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, inside Walton’s original Five and Dime store that started the Walmart empire when it opened back in 1950. Each year, thousands of visitors descend on the museum to get a look at that “beat up” old 1979 Ford F-150.
The truck has become so famous, in fact, that it’s even spawned an urban legend. At the company’s shareholder meeting each year, Walmart employees line up to touch the truck’s door handle, which allegedly gives them the gift of frugality.
Since the original pickup is obviously nearly priceless to the company, they’ve even built an exact replica. That truck stays parked right in front of the museum. Exactly where the original used to reside when Walton was hard at work. It’s also used in parades, various community and corporate functions, and store openings.
If there’s a better example of American ingenuity, values, or culture, we sure can’t think of it. But Sam Walton’s 1979 Ford F-150 isn’t just the most iconic singular truck in the world. It’s also a perfect example of why Ford is the quintessential builder of trucks!
Photos: Brett Foote for Ford Truck Enthusiasts