Anyone who has had to clear out a family home knows just how much miscellanea accumulates over the years. While a majority of this can usually be turfed, what most people don’t realize is that there some items of real value in there, items that will prick up the ears of Mike Wolfe, and have him pulling up in your yard. Mike is the mind and one of the main members featured in “American Pickers”. Built around the success of his stores, Antique Archaeology, Mike shows us the near nomadic life of a picker, as he travels nationwide to unearth forgotten artifacts. In addition to being a businessman and reality TV star, Mike is a loving father and husband, providing his wife with the much-needed support during her battle with cancer.
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— Mike Wolfe (@AmericanPicker) July 13, 2020
Early Life and Family
Mike Wolfe was born on 11 June 1964, in Joliet, Illinois, USA, the middle of three children with a brother named Robbie and a sister named Beth. Mike and his siblings have never disclosed the identity of their biological father, as their parents divorced when the children were still very young. Rita Wolfe, raised them as a single mother, and instilled in them all the values they have today. Mike seemed to know what to do almost by instinct, scavenging for artifacts and items in the trash from as early as four years old. Due to his family circumstances, there was a lot that the Wolfe family could not afford when he was growing up. When Mike salvaged a banana seat bike from his neighbor’s yard, it gave him his first taste of freedom, and was the acquisition that launched Wolfe’s lifelong passion for restoration and picking.
Mike Wolfe struggled through his years of academia. He could barely focus on his textbooks, and it would take multiple reading of a page to interpret the information. However, Mike stuck it out and matriculated from Bettendorf in 1982 – albeit as third from the bottom of his class. Mike spent some time floating between community colleges, but his heart was simply not in it. Realizing that his passion lay far from the world of academia, he set out to build a career of his own.
Odd Jobs and Bikes Salesman
Mike spent a while working as a messenger in Chicago, but found that the constant travel was putting a strain on his relationships. In 1987, he applied for a job at Hike ‘n’ Bike, with his only credentials being his passion for bicycles and a youth spent repairing them.
Mike would work for $7 an hour, assembling as many as 13 bikes per day. He became a pro at selling bikes and his boss even noted his efficacy on the show floor. It was this job that gave him his first glimpse of classic bikes, when his boss showed him his personal collection.
Enthralled by the streamlined beauty of the motorbikes, Wolfe immediately wanted one of his own, so he drew up flyers and distributed them far and wide, and began buying bikes from far and wide for anything from $25 to $100. While this appears to be a strange hobby for a man on his pay-check, after restoring the motorbikes he was able to sell them for up to $5,000 – a fortune compared to what he was earning assembling them.
With his large collection of restored motorcycles, it was inevitable that Mike would be attracted to the racing culture. For nine years from 1989 to 1998, Mike poured his soul into biking, participating in cat4 and cat3. He boasts that he was always in the top five in the races, and won one state time trial championships in the cat4 category. However, his responsibilities as the owner of a bike store required more and more of his attention, and racing eventually fell to the wayside.
While working as a sales representative in 1993 at the age of 29, Mike called a store only to discover it was a bike store, that was on sale.
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When I was a kid I dreamed of owning a bike like this. The only time you would ever see something this early and significant is when one of the old timers at the swap meet would bring one out.. We all would gather around young and old to see what we normally would only see in books.. Way before the internet all of us would have that moment together. The old guys would share knowledge and we young collectors would listen. There would be talk of hearing it run.. And sermons on why it was so beautiful. I feel those moments and there passions… Shaped me and molded me into who I am today. So many of them are gone now.. And us “young” guys now have big shoes to fill. My friend snapped this pic of me the other day. And when I saw it all of those emotions came rushing back. To those swap meet fields in Oley PA, Davenport Iowa ,Wauseon OH… Sacred grounds for all pickers once a year.. God I miss those days… Now I guess I’m one of those “old guys” dreaming of the next time my circle of friends can get together Swap stories and howl at the moon …
Mike Wolfe knew that this was his opportunity and took every cent he had, sold his beloved 1934 Harley, and purchased the store. From there, his success was exponential, Mike telling Bicycling that “I did $150 the first day and took the store from 75 bikes a year to 500 bikes a year in the first year. That’s when mountain bikes were taking off. I was the largest Manitou dealer in the country. It was nuts. We were rocking it so hard we opened another store in East Davenport.”
However, it was not all sunshine; after years of owning the stores, a fire broke out in the store above him, collapsing into his shop and setting it ablaze.
In addition to this, the store’s previous owner had completely misled and deceived him about the shop’s insurance, and it would take years for him to get a cent out of the insurance company. Although the second shop was still in good shape, the wind was taken from under his wings, and he found himself at a loss and completely Broke.
With little left of his bike business, Mike discovered E-bay. The idea spurred his creativity, and soon he had set up a website and took to the road in a cargo van. Thus, his pickings store – Antique Archaeology – began in 2000. He opened his first storefront in Iowa, and after the subsequent success of both his store and his role on reality TV, he opened a second store in Nashville, Tennessee.
Highly aware of the unconventional twist his life had taken, Mike Wolfe realized that what he was doing would make a great reality show. However, after pitching the idea to several companies, it became all too likely that such a show would never see fruition. Eventually, History Channel realized the potential of the gambit, and so decided that they would be the ones to film the show, which premiered on 18 January 2010, and runs to this day.
While the show is fixated on Mike Wolfe and Antique Archaeology – being what Mike describes as “Basically, the show is a profile of my life — about me” – this is not to say that it lacks personality and characters.
Mike travels across America in the company of Frank Fritz, a friend from high school and another picking store owner. Manning, or better to say, womaning the administration fort and finding sources at their base is Danielle Colby, a fascinating personality in her own right.
After realizing how much picking appealed to the public, and recognizing the way it had impacted his childhood, Wolfe went on to write two books on the subject. He released his first book “American Pickers Guide to Picking” in 2011, then co-wrote the book “Kid Pickers: How to Turn Trash into Treasure” in 2013, making the subject accessible to people of all ages.
Mike Wolfe met Jodi Faets in 1994, long before he rose to fame. Jodi already had a son from a previous marriage named Kyle, but this did nothing to intimidate Mike. Jodi recounts that Mike would often take her on picks, claiming they were dates. Nonetheless, the two fell in love and entered a committed relationship. On 18 January 2012, they welcomed their daughter Charlie into the world, and this proved to be the impetus that urged them to marry later that same year on 8 September 2012. Despite rumors, Mike isn’t dead but alive and healthy.
Things have not always been easy for the Wolfe family. Their daughter Charlie was born with a cleft palate, a condition that requires surgery to rectify.
Fortunately, after two facial reconstructive surgeries, the problem was successfully treated, and she is a perfectly happy child.
In the wake of that medical drama, Jadi was diagnosed with stage two of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2013. The doctors immediately began treatment, and to the family’s huge relief, she survived the cancer after a series of both surgery and treatment.
Mike Wolfe has a slim build and a broad smile, in lieu of which, his face always looks as if he will begin to laugh at any minute. He parts his greying hair down the middle and has dark brown eyes. Mike is 6ft (1.83m) tall and weighs around 150lbs (70kgs).
Net Worth and Salary
Mike Wolfe has pulled himself up by the bootstraps, transforming his life from having absolutely nothing to having a virtual empire in the picking industry. With two successful stores and the income from the vastly popular “American Pickers”, he can live a life far removed from his humble origins. As of mid-2020, Mike has an impressive net worth of $5 million.