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Immigrant Entrepreneur Hall of Fame: John W. Nordstrom

Country of origin: Sweden Year came to U.S.: 1887 Education: Sixth grade equivalent Business: Nordstrom, Inc. (1901) Headquarters: Seattle, WA 2013 revenue: $12.5 billion U.S. employment: 62,500 Ranked 224 in the 2014 Fortune 500  
  • Nordstrom came to the United States with just $5.00, amassed $13,000 within two years and was able to open his first store.
  • Nordstrom stores’ signature customer service stems directly from John W. Nordstrom’s work ethic.
  How did a $10-billion retail chain begin with just $5.00? The story of Nordstrom began in Sweden from where a 16-year-old boy emigrated to seek his fortune in the “land of opportunity.” John W. Nordstrom arrived in New York City in 1887 with just $5.00 (roughly $119.00 in today’s currency) and a similarly meager English lexicon. His fortitude, however, was unwavering. He labored in mines and logging camps on a journey that took him from the Northeast to California, Washington to Alaska, determined to be successful some day. Nordstrom headed to the Alaskan Klondike where he mined for gold under onerous conditions. After two years, he had earned $13,000, and with enough money to start his own business, Nordstrom returned to Seattle. He made friends with a shoe repairman named Carl Wallin, and in 1901 they opened Wallin & Nordstrom shoe store in downtown Seattle. Nordstrom’s work ethic translated into his business philosophy of providing exceptional service, selection, quality and value. It was no surprise, then, that by 1923 he had built a devoted customer base and opened a second store. Nordstrom’s sons took over in 1928. By 1960, two stores had grown into eight. The Seattle flagship was the largest shoe store in the country, and Wallin & Nordstrom became the nation’s largest independent shoe chain. Under a third generation of Nordstrom sons, Nordstrom, Inc. has penetrated markets well beyond Seattle. Clothing was added to the shelves in the 1960s and the company was renamed to Nordstrom Best in 1969. In 1971, the Company went public with its first stock offering  and by 1973, Nordstrom Best formally changed its name to Nordstrom. Today, the company continues Nordstrom’s signature of providing exceptional customer service making it one of the most popular specialty retail stores in the United States with 260 stores in 35 states.
Updated August 2014
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