‘American Pickers’ Star Mike Wolfe’s Childhood Inspired His Antiquing Career

by Josh Lanier

Mike Wolfe of American Pickers began his picking career very early. He said it was a lucky find one day that inspired him to devote his life to digging through the trash.

Wolfe told CBS Sunday Morning last year that he grew up poor in Bettendorf, Iowa, to a single mom and two siblings. His dad left when he was only two years old. The family struggled to makes ends meet, so luxuries that most kids had — like a bike — weren’t an option for Wolfe.

That was until one day, he noticed a bike sticking out of a trash can.

“It was one of those big garbage days,” the American Pickers star said. “I was cutting through this yard and remember seeing it. It was a girl’s bike. I picked that up, and I was amazed that someone would throw out a bike. And so I thought to myself, ‘If someone would throw out a bike, what else would they throw out?’ So that’s why I started digging in the garbage constantly even if it wasn’t a big garbage day. I was always in the trash cans and stuff.”

That habit of salvaging old discarded or forgotten items turned into a career fairly quickly. And some 50 years later, he’s still rooting around junk piles and garbage heaps, amazed at what people throw away.

And, so it seems, is a large portion of the nation, as American Pickers just began its 23rd season Monday, July 26.

It Took Wolfe Five Years To Sell ‘American Pickers’

Mike Wolfe had the idea for American Pickers long before it was on the History Channel. He explained to CBS Sunday Morning that networks struggled to understand what he was trying to sell them. They didn’t know what a picker was, and so they all passed. Wolfe worked at selling the idea for the show for five years before he finally found a way to get the History Channel to bite on his idea.

“I said, ‘Here’s the deal man, you’re the History Channel. Let’s educate (the audience.) Let’s tell them what a picker is.'”

The show premiered in 2010, and found an audience right away. The interplay between him and former co-star Frank Fritz made the picks fun and exciting. When, in actuality, you were just watching two men dig through someone’s old stuff.

Wolfe said the appeal of the show really isn’t the items they find or the stars’ banter as they drive across the country. The actual stars of American Pickers, Wolf said, are the people they meet. The eccentrics, the oddballs, and the passionate purveyors of the items they pick through.

“It’s fascinating to me,” Wolfe said. “And people constantly ask me to try to get into the mind of a collector — and I’m a collector myself. And I don’t even understand my mind as much as having to explain it half the time.”