‘American Pickers’ Star Mike Wolfe’s Story of How He Found His First Love

by Josh Lanier
(Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images)

American Pickers star Mike Wolfe’s picking empire began when he was just 6 years old. He was walking to school when he found a bicycle in the trash. It was a girl’s bike and a little worse for wear, but it was now his. He said he spent most of his adult life trying to recreate that moment.

Wolfe grew up poor in rural Iowa. His mom couldn’t afford to buy him a new bike, so that first pick was more than just a fortuitous find. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair. He believes every collector has an origin story similar to his. And he uses American Pickers to explore those stories.

“So the items on my show and the items that I collect are really just the vehicles to tell stories and to push them forward,” he said in 2018. “And I really feel that if you surround yourself with things in the right environment it’s almost like stepping back in time. I mean, obviously, we can’t freeze time, but in a way, it’s something that is really close to the heart and kind of wraps its arms around you.”

The American Pickers creator said he was undersized as a teenager, but on a bike, he felt bigger and stronger than anyone.

“I was the littlest kid in our neighborhood, but when I was on a bicycle, I was the man,” he told Bicycling.com in 2011. “Those big, fat kids who were six years older than me—I smoked those guys on a bike. No one could touch me.

Wolfe graduated to motorcycles later in life, but he said he still has an affection for bicycles that will always stay with him.

Wolfe Said All Collectors on ‘American Pickers’ Share Same Passion

Mike Wolfe said American Pickers works because it’s about the people he meets and not the objects he picks. That’s because everyone can relate to wanting to reconnect to their past. And every collection is a road map of sorts that traces back to a moment in someone’s life.

“A judge I met in Florida has an incredible collection of petrobilia, signs, and gas pumps. A lot of people have beautiful collections that are clean and on display. This guy, his stuff was piled on top of each other,” Mike Wolfe told Southeastern Antiquing and Collecting Magazine in 2011.

“For me, I want to know why people go down this path, why they buy all high-quality stuff. For this guy, it was because he worked in a gas station when he was 13. Just that one experience changed his path. That’s what interests me. I go in, and people have one hundred or one thousand of one thing, and it’s the back story that is intriguing to me.”