John Geisse

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John Geisse
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
Spouse(s)Mary Wakeen
ChildrenLarry, Tim, Tom, Terry, Andy, John, Nancy, Kathleen, Sally, Amy

John Francis Geisse (September 1, 1920 – February 21, 1992) was an American businessman, the founder of 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. He grew up in the Washington DC area and attended St. John's College High School.[3] He graduated from the United States Naval Academy with the Class of 1942,[1][4][5] until the attack on Pearl Harbor prompted an early graduation in December 1941. 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.[6]

Retail industry career[edit]

After leaving the military, he moved to Minneapolis, where he began his retail career working for Dayton's.[1][6]

In 1962, along with Douglas Dayton, he founded and launched the Target Stores for the Dayton Company,[7] 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. In 1975, he "retired" from Mays and Venture and became chairman of the struggling Ayr-Way Stores in Indianapolis. After he turned around Ayr-Way Stores, he became a long time consultant to his friend Sam Walton and Wal-Mart Stores, Ames Department Stores, and others. In 1982, he founded his third chain, a warehouse club named The Wholesale Club, 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, Inc., where it was merged with Sam's Club.[8]


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] S

Sam Walton, who often consulted Geisse, called him "a pioneer in innovative retailing concepts."[6]

Personal life[edit]

Geisse was married to the former Mary Ann Wakeen. Together they had ten children.[1][6]

Geisse died of an arrhythmia in Indianapolis in 1992.[6] He was laid to rest in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, near his parents.[9]


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