A father and son stand side-by-side in the trenches pioneering through the early poultry days in Springdale. That’s the image welcoming visitors to the new Founders Room developed at the request of the late Don Tyson.
The 1,500 square-foot gallery takes visitors back to 1935, paying tribute to founder John W. Tyson and son Don who together built one of the world’s largest meat companies from their humble home in Springdale.
The museum-like exhibit is on display at Tyson Foods’ Springdale corporate headquarters in the spot where the executive offices were originally located.
The project has been a labor of love by the Tyson family, workers and designers Todd and Tracy Johnson of Texas-based Circa Inc. as they pulled together 77 years of company history in an informative display that captures the essence of Tyson’s success.
There are more 300 photos on display, which were selected from 1,000 items gathered for the permanent exhibit. There is a mini screening room which shows rare video footage of a 1974 corporate film of Don Tyson, Leland Tollett and Buddy Wray, the executives who steered Tyson through five decades of monumental growth.
Wray, a veteran Tyson executive, recently shared that “Mr. John Tyson” came to the chicken business almost by accident. He said the young John W. Tyson routinely hauled hay from his family farm in Missouri down to market on Saturday located on Emma Avenue in Springdale. One day in 1935 another merchant selling chickens had some left at the end of the day.
Wray said the senior Tyson took those live chickens back with him and sold them in larger markets like Kansas City and St. Louis for more profit than the hay business offered. This wholesale live bird business eventually spawned Tyson Feed and Hatchery, which evolved into a Fortune 500 company with $32 billion in annual sales and still bearing the Tyson family name.
Wray said Don idolized his father and together, “they made a great team.” He said Don was a tremendous leader with grand ideas, but his father was the anchor that kept the company grounded through its formative years.
Tyson Foods, like so many other poultry companies, was almost acquired around 1957 by Swanson Foods. But Don had other ideas. He encouraged his father to build its first processing plant in 1958, and the rest they say is history.
Todd Johnson, said he hopes the new exhibit wil help to educate the masses about the people behind the giant organization. The display also includes a replica of John W. Tyson’s office on Emma Street. He died in 1967 and never saw the present-day corporate campus which opened in 1969.
Wray said one of Don’s greatest attributes was his ability to hire and retain good people.
“Once he hired you, Don stood back and let you do the job pretty much your way,” Wray said.
In keeping with Don’s wishes, the display pays tribute to its grower families, plant workers and core of corporate chaplains — the thousands of folks behind the scenes working to make Tyson Foods successful.
While the founder’s room was requested by Don and he met with the designers on a couple of occasions in the early planning, he died more than a year before its completion.
A life-size cut-out of Don dressed in his signature khaki has startled a few folks when they round the first corner through the gallery, according to Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman.
While Don wasn’t the founder, he is largely responsible for Tyson’s phenomenal growth through acquisitions made from the late 1960s through the 2001 purchase and merger with IBP, the nation’s largest beef and pork supplier.
The Founder’s Room is open for public viewing during regular business office hours. The company asks that groups of 10 or more schedule a tour.