The Chainstore Millionaire from Culcrum
Like so many Ballymoney people of his generation, Samuel Robinson emigrated to America in 1888 hoping to find fortune and happiness. Fortunately for Robinson, he had the talent, ambition and luck to achieve his dreams, becoming one of America’s most successful multi-million dollar businessman.
Samuel Robinson was born 9 June 1865 at Culcrum, near Cloughmills, south east of Ballymoney town. As a youngster he served his apprenticeship with his uncle, William James Megaw (Chairman of Ballymoney Urban District Council 1888-1920), who was a wholesale and retail grocer and coal merchant in Ballymoney. During this time, he lived with the Megaw’s and attended the First Ballymoney Presbyterian Church where he learned the religious principles that he adhered to for his entire life.
In 1888, Robinson left Ballymoney and eventually settled in Philadelphia. There, he formed a partnership with Robert H. Crawford and went into the grocery business. In 1917, he established the American Stores Company and set about revolutionising the way people shopped. Many of his ideas are things which today we take for granted e.g. he displayed all the goods on shelves for the customer to browse through; he bought the land surrounding his shops to give customers free parking spaces; and he provided trolleys for shoppers to carry their goods.
The American Stores Company (or ACME) had shops across the continent and Robinson was soon a very wealthy man. However, he never forgot his humble beginnings and donated large portions of his money to charity, always insisting that the gift was used in accordance with his strict religious principles. Back home in Ballymoney, in 1933 he paid for the Robinson Memorial Hospital to be built in memory of his late parents. On his death, in 1958, this initial donation of £50,000, had been followed by a further acts of remarkable generosity totaling £140,000.
Samuel Robinson always remembered and loved his home in Co. Antrim and retained strong connections throughout his life. Many of the staff at his 44 room mansion, Glencoe House, in Pennsylvania, were from Ulster and he retained his accent throughout his life. He was succeeded as President of his company by his brother-in-law William Park, born at Knockahollet, while the parents of his wife, Elizabeth Parkhill, lived at Coldagh, both from his home district. On his death, on 26 October 1958, the people of Ballymoney mourned this much loved benefactor and prayers were said in his name at many of the local churches. He is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia.