Frank Winfield Woolworth was born in 1852. He was an American merchant and was a pioneer in retailing methods. He established the great chain of "five-and-ten-cent" stores, which bear his name. Frank was born to a poor family in upstate New York. He began his career by clerking in a general store in the local market center. He started a small store in Utica in 1879, but it soon failed.
By 1881, Woolworth had 2 successful stores in Pennsylvania. By adding 10-cent items, Frank was able to increase his inventory greatly and acquired a unique institutional status most important for the success of his stores. The growth of Woolworth's chain was rapid. Capital for new stores came partly from the profits of those already in operation and partly from investment by partners whom Woolworth installed as managers of the new units.
Convinced that the most important factor in ensuring the success of the chain was increasing the variety of goods offered, Woolworth in 1886 moved to Brooklyn, New York, to be near wholesale suppliers. He undertook the purchasing for the entire chain.
A major breakthrough came when he decided to stock candy and was able to bypass wholesalers and deal directly with manufacturers. Aware of the importance of the presentation of goods, Woolworth took the responsibility for planning window and counter displays for the whole chain and devised the familiar red storefront, which became its institutional hallmark.
The success of the chain between 1890 and 1910 was phenomenal. The company had 631 outlets doing a business of $60,558,000 annually by 1912. In that year Woolworth merged with 5 of his leading competitors, forming a corporation capitalized at $65 million.
The next year, at a cost of $13.5 million, he built the Woolworth Building in downtown New York, which was the tallest skyscraper in the world at the time.
By 1915 Woolworth spent much of his time in Europe. When he died in 1919, the F.W. Woolworth Company, with over 1,000 stores, was perhaps the most successful retail enterprise in the world.
During Frank Woolworth's life many events were occurring. One of those events was that George B. Selden, an engineer, developed a 3-cylinder internal combustion engine and used it to power a "horse-less carriage".