Frank Winfield Woolworth was born April 13, 1852 in Rodman, New York.
Woolworth attended a business college for two terms in Watertown, New York.
In 1873, he began working as a stock boy for a general store.
It was during his time as a stock boy that Woolworth got the idea for a 5 cent store.
The general store he worked for had a table with items selling for 5 cents that always sold out, no matter what items were put on it.
Woolworth married Jennie Creighton on June 11, 1876 and raised three daughters.
The First Five and Dime
Woolworth borrowed $300 from the merchant he worked for and opened the first five cent store in Utica, New York on February 22, 1879. The store failed within weeks due to a poor location.
Woolworth then moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania and made his second attempt by expanding his concept to include ten cent items. This store (shown above) opened June 21, 1879.
Woolworth pioneered the practice (also used much later by Sam Walton when he opened Wal-Mart) of buying merchandise direct from manufacturers and fixing prices on the items. This self-service concept went against the common practice in retail of haggling.
Woolworth was also the first to display cases so customers could examine what they wanted to buy without the help of a salesman.
Woolworth was also one of the first retail sales locations to utilize electric lighting.
In 1904, Woolworth had grown to some 120 stores in 21 states.
By 1911, Woolworth had expanded his Five and Dime stores to 586 locations and incorporated the F.W.Woolworth Company.
As a result of his rapid success, in 1913 he built the Woolworth Building in New York City at a cost of $13.5 million in cash. At the time, his building was the tallest in the world, measuring 792 feet in height.
In 1916, Woolworth built his mansion he called “Winfield Hall” on Long Island in Glen Cove, New York.
Woolworth’s grew his company to more than 1,000 stores in the United States as well as other countries and had a worth of around $65 million.
Frank Winfield Woolworth died on April 8, 1919, five days before his 67th birthday. At the time of his death, he was worth approximately 6.5 million dollars.
“Dreams never hurt anybody if he keeps working right behind the dream to make as much of it become real as he can.”
– Frank Woolworth, Entrepreneur
Now WE know em
In 1978, the Woolworth Estate became the home of Monica Randall, a writer and photographer. She wrote a memoir of her experiences there entitled Winfield: Living in the Shadow of the Woolworths. Other notable residents of Winfield Hall were the Reynolds family of R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Reynolds Aluminum.
The Winfield Hall mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
Mr. Woolworth was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1995.
Woolworth’s after its founder
By 1997, the original Woolworth chain had been reduced to 400 stores, and other divisions of the company began to be more profitable than the original stores.
The original Woolworth’s went out of business on July 17, 1997, as the firm began its transition into Foot Locker, Inc..