John Geisse

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John Geisse
John F. Geisse, American businessman.jpg
Geisse c. 1980s-90s
John Francis Geisse

(1920-09-01)September 1, 1920
DiedFebruary 21, 1992(1992-02-21) (aged 71)
Resting placeCrown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana
EducationSt. John's College HS
United States Naval Academy

John Francis Geisse (September 1, 1920 – February 21, 1992) was an American businessman. He founded three successful retail chains: Target Discount Stores, Venture Stores, and The Wholesale Club (which merged in 1991 with Sam's Club).[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Geisse was born on September 1, 1920,[2] in Madison, Wisconsin, the son of aeronautical inventor John Harlin and Esther (née Wattawa) Geisse.[3] He grew up in the Washington, DC, area[3] and attended St. John's College High School.[4] He was set to graduate from the United States Naval Academy with the class of 1942,[1][5][6] until the attack on Pearl Harbor prompted an early graduation in December 1941.[3] During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters. He left the service in 1947 as a lieutenant commander.[3][7]

Retail industry career[edit]

After leaving the military, he moved to Minneapolis, where he began his retail career working for Dayton's.[1][3][7] In 1962, he and Douglas Dayton founded and launched the Target Stores for the Dayton Company,[8] now known as Target Corporation. In 1968, he left Target Stores and was subsequently hired by May Department Stores, where he founded the Venture chain.[3] In 1975, he "retired" from Mays and Venture, and became chairman of the struggling Ayr-Way Stores in Indianapolis. After he turned Ayr-Way Stores around, he became a long-time consultant to his friend Sam Walton and Wal-Mart Stores and to Ames Department Stores and others. In 1982, he founded his third chain, a warehouse club named The Wholesale Club,[3] that inspired Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. to create its Sam's Club division in 1983.[1] In 1991, he sold The Wholesale Club store chain to Wal-Mart Stores and it was merged with Sam's Club.[9]


He authored the Better Quality Upscale Discount Store Concept in America, and was inducted into the Discount Store News Discount Hall of Fame in 1984.[1] Sam Walton, who often consulted Geisse, called him "a pioneer in innovative retailing concepts".[7]

Personal life[edit]

Geisse was married to the former Mary Ann Wakeen. Together, they had 10 children.[1][7] Geisse died of a heart attack in Indianapolis in 1992.[3][7] He was buried near his parents in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "John Francis Geisse (1920–1992)". Geisse Family. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  2. ^ Curtis, Georgina Pell; Elder, Benedict (1961). "Geisse, John Harlin". The American Catholic Who's Who. 14: 167. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "John Geisse, 71, Dies; Helped Start Target, Wholesale Stores". Star Tribune. February 23, 1992. p. 26. Retrieved March 31, 2019 – via open access
  4. ^ "Call to Remember". Retrieved September 14, 2018.
  5. ^ "John H. Geisse, 96, Aeronautical Inventor". The New York Times. December 8, 1988. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  6. ^ The Lucky Bag. Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Academy. 1942. p. 95. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d e "J. F. Geisse, 71, Who Founded Discount Stores". The New York Times. February 27, 1992. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  8. ^ Yardley, William (July 10, 2013). "Douglas J. Dayton, First President of Target, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  9. ^ Taylor, Marianne (November 7, 1990). "Wal-mart Acquiring Club Rival". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  10. ^ John Geisse at Find a Grave