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This Month in Business History

What can you get for a nickel?

Donna Scanlon
Business Reference Section
September 2010

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It was 1878 and Frank Winfield Woolworth was working in a general store. The 5-cent merchandise table was set up and staffed by Frank. As he assisted the customers that crowded around the table, Frank resolved to start a store of his own stocked only with 5-cent merchandise.1

By June, 1879 Frank Winfield Woolworth was on his way to make history. He opened his first store in Utica, New York. Though he tried, this first attempt was a failure. Frank did not give up and tried again, this time in Lancaster, Pennsylvania too much success! As the popularity of the 5-cent merchandise grew, Frank added a selection of 10-cent merchandise. This new selection went over quite well and Frank began opening more stores.


View of the Woolworth Building c1913
towering above the surrounding buildings in New York city.
Published by: The Pictorial News Company, NY.
Prints & Photographs Division
Library of Congress
Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-127214

In February of 1905 the "F. W. Woolworth & Company" was formally incorporated. In 1909 Frank Woolworth took his stores international opening a chain of stores in England which he referred to as his "Three and Sixes" stores (three and sixpence being the closest currency equivalent to five cents and ten cents).2

The Woolworths corporate office building in New York was completed in 1913. Standing 792 feet tall it was the tallest building in the world until 1929. Today it is still one of the 50 tallest buildings in the United States.3

Expansion began and in Frank merged his stores with 5 other retailers, most of which were former partners, in 1912. This merger brought the total number of stores to 596 operating in 37 states. Expansion continued on the international front as well. By 1914 there were 44 stores in the British Isles,4 then stores opened in Germany (1926), Cuba (1924), Mexico and South America (1954). Stores with the Woolworth name, but no legal connection appeared in Australia (Woolworth Limited) and in 1974 the F.W. Woolworth & Co (Cyprus) Ltd. Was formed and by agreement was able to retain the use of the Woolworth name. More acquisitions expanded the Woolworth Corporation beginning with the Kinney Shoe Corporation (1963), Stylco (1967), Susie Casuals (1968), and Footlocker (1974).

On the decline

Over time the revenue from the Woolworth's stores diminished as competition from other discount retailers grew and in 1997 the F.W. Woolworth Corp. closed all remaining stores in the United States. According to the 10-K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission for the fiscal year ending January 31, 1998, the Woolworth Corporation remained active in the following businesses:

  • Athletic Group: included Foot Locker, Lady Foot Locker, Kids Foot Locker, Champs Sports, and Eastbay, Inc.
  • Northern Group: consisting of 827 stores in the United States and Canada offering the private label apparel brands of Northern Reflections, Northern Getaway, Northern Elements, and Northern Traditions.
  • Specialty Footwear: consisting of Kinney Shoes and Colorado
  • Other Specialty businesses: Afterthoughts, The San Francisco Music Box Company, and 20 Burger King franchises.

The company today

Woolworth Corporation became Venator Group on June 12, 1998. In 2001 the company completed the disposition of all non-athletic businesses, keeping just the Athletic Group, and changed the corporate name to Foot Locker, Inc.

Foot Locker, Inc today has about 3,500 stores in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand as of January 2010 5

If you have any further questions, please Ask A Librarian.

Internet Resources

BookRags : Dime Stores/Woolworth’s External Link
A brief history of Dime Stores with a focus on Woolworth's.

Butowski, John.  Medieval New York: Woolworth Building: External Link
A student from Fordham University in New York City provides history of the building and photos from inside.

Cass Gilbert Society External Link
Site includes a biography of the architect and his buildings including the Woolworth building.

Foot Locker, Inc: (Corporate website) External Link

Funding Universe: Company Histories – Foot Locker, Inc. External Link
Timeline and history beginning with the first store opened by F. W. Woolworth.

Smithsonian National Museum of American History: Woolworth’s Lunch Counter External Link

The Way We Were - Kinney Shoe Corporation website External Link
A site of memories from the former staff of Kinney Shoes. Includes a history, photo gallery, commercials, and reunion information.

Print Resources


Gorsline, Douglas (Ill.). Nickels and dimes; the story of F. W. Woolworth. [1st ed.] New York, Harcourt, Brace [1954]
LC Call Number: HF5465.U6 W825
LC Catalog Record: 54009621

F. W. Woolworth Co. 100th anniversary, 1879-1979. New York : The Company, c1979.
LC Call Number: HF5465.U6 W9
LC Catalog Record: 79112588

Maddern Pitrone, Jean.  F.W. Woolworth and the American five and dime : a social history. Jefferson, North Carolina : McFarland & Company, Inc.,, c2003.
LC Call Number: HF5465.U64 W667 2003
LC Catalog Record:  2002153996

Plunkett-Powell, Karen. Remembering Woolworth’s : a nostalgic history of the world’s most famous five-and-dime.  1st ed. New York : St. Martin’s Press, 1999.
LC Call Number: HF5465.U6 W864 1999
LC Catalog Record: 99015916

Woolworth’s first 75 years; the story of everybody’s store. [New York, 1954]
LC Call Number: HF5465.U6 W824
LC Catalog Record: 54002065

Article/News Databases

A search for articles in the following business and historical databases using "Woolworth" related terms will produce results. Some search suggestions:

  • F. W. Woolworth
  • Five and dime stores
  • Foot Locker
  • Venator Group
  • Woolworth's Corporation
  • Woolworth history

Some recommended databases are listed below. Please note that these are subscription products. To access these databases, users must be onsite at the Library of Congress or obtain access through another subscribing institution. To locate a library in your area which may subscribe to some or all of these products, try searching portals such as External Link, Search for Public Libraries, or Find a Federal Depository Library

  • ABI/INFORM Global
  • Business & Company Resource Center
  • Business Source Complete
  • General OneFile
  • Historical Annual Reports
  • ProQuest Historical Newspapers

Library of Congress Catalog Searches

Additional works on this topic in the Library of Congress may be identified by searching the Online Catalog under appropriate Library of Congress subject headings. Choose the topics you wish to search from the following list of Library of Congress subject headings to link directly to the Catalog and automatically execute a search for the subject selected. Please be aware that during periods of heavy use you may encounter delays in accessing the catalog. For assistance in locating other subject headings that may relate to this subject, please consult a reference librarian.

F.W. Woolworth Company

Variety stores--History.

Woolworth building

Woolworth family

Woolworth, Frank Winfield

 1. F.W. Woolworth, Co. Celebrating 60 years of an American institution:  A history of the enterprise that made America’s nickels and dimes buy more. [New York, Lord & Thomas, c1939] P. 4

 2. F. W. Woolworth Co. (1979). 100th anniversary, 1879-1979.

 3. Cass Gilbert Society, Woolworth Building, New York External Link

 4. Plunkett-Powell, Karen  (1999).  Remembering Woolworth’s A nostalgic history of the World’s most famous five-and-dime.  St. Martin’s Press: New York.  p. 111-112.

 5. Foot Locker, Inc. Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended January 30, 2010, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.  Accessed 8/14/10 from:

Last updated: 08/12/2015

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