When John Philp Thompson was born in Dallas, Texas on November 25, 1925 the world was very different than it is now. Instead of a refrigerator, people stored their cold foods in an icebox–a literal wooden box lined with metal with a waterproof compartment on the top that held the ice which kept everything cool. In some towns the ice man came up and down the streets in a wagon, selling blocks of ice and carrying them into folks’ houses for them, but the ice was cheaper if you went to the ice house–those owned by the Dallas Southland Ice Company, for example–and toted (carried) the blocks home yourself.
When the Great Depression struck many people lost their jobs and had little money. Businesses like the Southland Company fell on hard times. One of their employees, John Jefferson Green, suggested that they begin carrying staple grocery items like bread and milk in their stores. That way people could buy just what they needed when they came for ice and tote those things home, too. They called their stores “Tote’ms,” and they were a great convenience.
John’s dad, Joe C. Thompson, took the idea a step further. Most stores in that day were open from 9-5 Monday through Saturday and closed on Sunday…but what if you needed milk for your baby before work or late at night or on a Sunday? What if you ran out of gas? Mr. Thompson started a chain of Tote’m stores that opened at 7 in the morning before work and stayed open until 11 at night. They sold their essentials as well as gasoline on Sundays, too! To emphasize his stores’ hours, Thompson promoted them as 7-Eleven stores. The idea of one-stop convenience stores caught on in a big way!
Young John and his brothers grew up working in the store alongside his father. When their father retired he passed the reins to John, who seemed to share his entrepreneurial gift. John added coffee and Big Gulp sodas to the stores’ line-up, and he invented the Slurpee. He also kept expanding the company, taking it from a Texas chain to an international corporation. Today 7-Eleven is an multi-million dollar business with 56,600 stores in 18 countries.
But John didn’t keep all that money for himself. He measured his company not only by the number of stores and the amount of money they produced, but by the good it could do. The Southland Corporation and 7-Eleven raised $81.5 million for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, supported the March of Dimes, Goodwill Industries, and the Salvation Army, and worked with the National Wildlife Federation to purchase land as an American bald eagle refuge.
Oh thank heaven for 7-Eleven! 🙂