The original ‘American Picker’
February 27, 2014 | By Jay Jones, Special to Tribune Newspapers
LECLAIRE, Iowa — Though some people think of pickers as mere dumpster divers, Mike Wolfe doesn’t mind. His childhood hobby spawned an adult obsession, one that he has parlayed into a popular antiques business and an even more popular TV show.
Millions of viewers tune in each week to watch Wolfe scour backyards and barns for “American Pickers,” a series he created in 2010. The show often returns to Wolfe’s roots in LeClaire, where his passion first turned profitable with the opening of Antique Archaeology. Located just off the main drag, the shop has driven the renaissance of this Mississippi River town 161 miles west of Chicago and just north of the Quad Cities.
Wolfe began picking as a kindergartner in Joliet, but his fixation with others’ junk flourished after his family’smove to Bettendorf, Iowa, when he was in the fourth grade.
“There was a junkyard down by the river in Bettendorf,” he recalled. “It was kind of a coming-of-age story like ‘Stand By Me.’ We would walk the railroad tracks all day, hang around in the junkyard, break windows in the cars and dig around in the glove boxes to find things.”
During his formative years in the 1970s, Wolfe said, “picker” was a derogatory term for “somebody who went through alleys digging through garbage and every once in a while came up with a gem.” Eventually, he discovered that people were willing to fork over money for his gems. The business was born.
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