The roots of Kmart trace back to the S.S. Kresge Company, established in 1899 by Sebastian Spurling Kresge. Initially working with retail giant John McCrory in Memphis, Tennessee, Kresge eventually became the sole owner after the partners parted ways. Expanding his retail empire, he opened stores in eight cities between Chicago and Pittsburgh during the 1920s to the 1960s.
In a pivotal moment in 1962, retail innovator Harry Cunningham propelled Kmart into the large-scale discount market with the inauguration of the first full-sized Kmart in Michigan. Notably, this occurred just as Walmart, founded by Harry Cunningham and Sam Walton, launched its first store in Rogers, Arkansas, drawing inspiration from Anne and Hope’s store in Rhode Island.
The iconic “Blue Light Special” was introduced in 1965 as a means of promoting products on sale at Kmart. The distinctive announcement, “Attention Kmart Shoppers,” echoed through the store’s loudspeakers to alert patrons.
By 1976, S.S. Kresge achieved historic milestones, opening 271 stores in a single year and becoming the first retailer to unveil a staggering 17 million square feet of sales space in that same timeframe. During its prosperous era, Kmart gained popularity by offering products endorsed by celebrities such as Jaclyn Smith and Martha Stewart. Reflecting its dominance in the market, nearly 95 percent of S.S. Kresge’s sales in 1977 were generated by Kmart stores, leading to a corporate name change to Kmart Corporation to accurately represent its primary focus.