American Pickers’ Mike Wolfe: The story behind TV’s treasure-hunter extraordinaire

Mike Wolfe laughing in a scene from American Pickers
Mike Wolfe on American Pickers, where you can feel the love he has for treasured old things

Monday nights wouldn’t be the same without American Pickers — and the main man Mike Wolfe.

Each week on the series, he travels off-the-beaten track across the country with his high school pal-turned-picker Frank Fritz, guided by the smart siren, Danielle Colby.

Together they unearth gems, artifacts and lots of “roached” finds as they wheel and deal.

Wolfe has become a defacto expert on petroliana, heirlooms and American curios. If it is covered in rust, dirt and racoon poop, he’s in.

American Pickers is one of History channel’s flagship shows and the chemistry that Wolfe has with his cast and with potential customers is undeniable.

But who is Mike Wolfe?

He may have a Tennessee home now, but Mike is 100 per cent Iowa born and bred.

Wolfe grew up in the city of Bettendorf and went to school with his co-star Fritz. His mother raised him and his two siblings by herself in what Mike has described as a “working class” neighborhood.

An eye for detail early on, Wolfe has made a career out of seeing the value in what others consider to be dilapidated things.

Wolfe’s love of finding odd objects in their natural state, before winding up in an auction or flea market, drove him to hop in the van with Frank and drive all over the USA.

Wolfe’s knack for finding treasures lost in the trash became a real profession, and then he hit on an idea to create a TV show to pitch — the premise being that he could share people’s stories and the reasons people collected the interesting things they did.

Cut to a hit series into its seventh season on television. Wolfe’s business, Antique Archaeology, has its original store in LeClaire, Iowa, and is now also really making its presence known in Nashville, Tennessee, where the second one is located.

Wolfe calls Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee, home with his wife Jodi and new daughter Charlie, and noted in a past interview how the town is perfect in his eyes.

He said: “Very creative people live here, and there’s such a mix of rock stars, movie stars, and locals. Everybody is the same here — nobody is treated differently. It’s just down-home.”

In an interview with The Glow, Mike’s wife Jodi talked about his undeniable love for his baby daughter Charlie, and told of the toddler’s journey through corrective surgery for a cleft palate.

Wolfe is now expanding his bread-and-butter picking business through his love for the area in which he lives, and actually preserving historic buildings in the Nashville area too.

Fans know that bicycles have always been a passion for Mike and Frank. Before “Pickers”, Mike worked as a sales representative in the bike industry. He had a bike shop in Davenport, Iowa, and then one in Rock Island, Illinois.

Both Frank and Mike are gear-heads and old motorbike lovers

Mike continued his career of buying and selling old bikes and parts, and as his business grew so did his ideas for expanding their brand and mission. The History show is a testament to his tenacity in making an idea and a deal come to fruition.

In previous interviews, Wolfe described what being a picker was and how it has changed with the ease of online selling.

He said: “When you walk into your favorite antique shop and see all of these amazing things, probably 60 to 70 percent came from a picker.

“As far as running a retail business, most shop owners can’t get out often — they’re lucky to get to an auction once a week.

“So, they rely on pickers — guys with the same eyes, feel, and understanding of trends to help supply their store.

“Now, that’s changed because people like me who were filling stores up stopped once we started selling online. ”

On taking to the road and dreaming up a show about his adventures wheeling and dealing, he added: “The game changer was eBay.

“Guys that were supplying antique shops suddenly had a worldwide customer base. My dream — I think everybody’s dream — had always been to hit the road: The great American road trip. No clock, no boot on your neck, just go wherever you want.”

The idea for American Pickers dawned on Mike when he returned from a juicy east-coast pick with a van full of rarities.

His  friends would ask where he found these treasures and Mike would regale them with his stories of the people who he bought from. The interest was so profound and pervasive, Wolfe had an idea.

He started documenting the stories and filming himself, and roped Frank in to join him. Cut to some rough sizzle reels of the guys in action, and some production people in Nashville who helped him get his meeting with History channel…well the rest is pure “Picking” history!

On tonight’s new episode titled Hot Rod Hero, Mike and Frank discover a cache of “one-of-a-kind” concept cars which are so unique the guys are at a loss on how to even gauge their value!

American Pickers airs Mondays at 9/8C on History.

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