How John Nordstrom Started a Shoe Retail Business

On February 15 in the year 1871, one of the pioneers in the footwear retail industry was born in Alvik, Sweden. His name is John Wilhelm Nordstrom, the co-founder of Seattle-based department store chain Nordstrom, Inc.

John Nordstrom
John Nordstrom (Credit:

John Nordstrom was the son of a blacksmith who died when John was only eight years old. After he finished his elementary studies, he started working in the family farm. At the age of 16, he moved to the United States with only $5 in his pocket. He did whatever job was available: in the railways, mines, farm, and finally in a logging camp near Seattle, Washington. Ever the adventurous person that he was, he joined thousands of people in the mad Alaska Gold Rush in the late 1890s. As he labored panning for gold in the Klondike, a controversy ensued involving his claim of the area. Lady Luck was on his side because his opponent agreed to buy out the property for $30,000. The amount was split into three and his share was computed at $13,000, quite a fortune at that time.

Settling in Seattle in 1900, he contemplated on his next move. He built a beautiful house and got married. Later, a friend named Carl F. Wallin whom he met in Alaska suggested that they go into business. In 1901, the two opened a shoe store under the name Wallin and Nordstrom. They nurtured the business and a second store was opened in 1923.
When his sons were ready to take over the business, John sold his shares to them and retired in 1928. Carl, his partner, did the same. Later, the sons renamed the company as Nordstrom and Company.

John Nordstrom died in 1963 at the age of 92. He had five children with wife Hilda. In 2020, Nordstrom was ranked 196 in the Fortune 500 list with revenues of $15.8 billion and 74,000 employees in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico.


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