James Cash Penney’s: Mom and pop to chain


Photo Courtesy: Gregory R.C. Hasman

The current location opened in 1929.

In 2015 about 40 J.C. Penney stores shut down and in 2016 several more will close its doors including one at the White Mountain Mall in Rock Springs, Wyoming on April 8.

It opened with the mall in 1978 and it will be missed in the community.

There are others throughout the country, but none will capture the imagination as the original location in Kemmerer, a little over an hour northwest of Rock Springs just off U.S. Highway 30.

Mr. Penney was born on a small farm outside Hamilton, Missouri and at the age of 8, his father told him he needed to purchase his own clothing. Over the next few years James Cash began investing money saved from running errands, collecting junk and performing farm work. He bought and sold pigs, which helped him launch a career as an entrepreneur.

Penney held several jobs after graduating high school, which included being a clerk at John M Hale’s dry goods store and proprietor of a butcher shop in Colorado. After a brief flirtation as a chef at a local hotel he went to work for Guy Johnson and Thomas Callahan, who operated several small dry goods stores called Golden Rule Stores in Colorado and Wyoming.

Penney relocated to Kemmerer with his wife and infant son and opened a store on April, 14, 1902. The one-room framed building was located between a laundry and boarding house off the main business district.  They lived in the attic over the store that was furnished with makeshift counters and shelves made out of packing crates.

Penney proposed to open a cash only store, which was laughed at by local businessmen, but embraced by the citizens.

Within two years he opened up in Rock Springs and Cumberland, Wyoming and when Callahan and Johnson dissolved their partnership he became full owner and began launching his own Golden Rule stores.

To Penney the Golden Rule name represented his deeper philosophical and religious beliefs and became his creed. He insisted on offering customers quality merchandise at the lowest prices. Customer service, thrift, shrewd buying practices and a growing cadre of talented store managers and associates formed the foundation of his new organization.

Here is a timeline of other events:

1909 – Established headquarters in Salt Lake City

1913- The Golden Rule Store name was phased out and replaced by J.C. Penney Company Inc.

1916- The company opened its first stores east of the Mississippi River in Watertown and Wausau, Wisconsin

At age 42, Penney became the company’s first chairman of the board

1917- The company published the first issue of The Dynamo, the first company newspaper

1921- He established an education department and in March 1921 the department shipped to the stores the first lesson the company’s business training course, a free correspondence course designed to give associates the most up-to-date training in salesmanship, merchandising and business management. By August of that year over 90 percent of the company’s 2,500 associates had enrolled.

1926- The company owned an 18-story office building and warehouse in New York on 330 W. 34th St.

1929- On Oct. 23 J.C. Penney common and preferred stocks are listed on the New York Stock Exchange for the first time.

1951- Sales are over $1 billion fulfilling his 1927 prediction

1962- The company acquired the General Merchandise Company, a mail order catalog  operation. a A year later, the first J.C. Penney Catalog was issued.

1971- Mr. Penney died on Feb. 12 at age 96


6 thoughts on “James Cash Penney’s: Mom and pop to chain”

  1. Hi, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one and i was just curious if you get a lot of spam remarks? If so how do you reduce it, any plugin or anything you can advise? I get so much lately it?s driving me mad so any assistance is very much appreciated.

  2. I have been in the mother store many times! It’s like a walk back in history! My mother lived in the neighbouring town of Diamondville, about a mile down the road. This American History that touches the people!

    1. Diamondville still provides a taste of the Old West especially with the general store and blacksmith shop. That is one reason I love traveling down two-lane highways.

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