From Farm to Fame: The Success Story of James Penney

On this day, September 16 in the year 1875, the farmer who became a tycoon was born in Missouri, United States. His name was James Cash Penney Jr., the founder of the department store chain JC Penney Corporation.

James Cash Penney
James Cash Penney (Credit:

James Cash Penney was the seventh of 12 children of a poor farmer who was also a Baptist minister. As a child, James raised livestock and sold them to help pay for his education. He finished high school in 1893. Then he went to work as a clerk in a dry goods store in Hamilton, Missouri. Later, he was promoted as a salesman.

In 1897, James Penney moved to Colorado upon the advice of a doctor in order to recover from his illness which was suspected to be tuberculosis. There he opened a butcher shop which eventually failed. He found work in a dry goods store called The Golden Rule Store. Because of his dedication and honesty, the owner of the store offered him the opportunity to become a partner in a new store. James invested $2000 in the partnership which opened a store in Kemmerer, Wyoming in 1902.

The store became successful because of the quality merchandise and good service. The partnership opened a second store within the year and another store the following year. Subsequently, he bought out the shares of his partners and became the sole owner of the three stores.

In 1910, James Penney lost his wife due to pneumonia. Although he was psychologically devastated, he continued to expand the business. By 1912, he had 34 stores with sales of more than $2 million. The following year, the company was renamed J. C. Penney Company. In 1924, at the age of 49, he put up his 500th store in the town of his birth, Hamilton, Missouri. He also bought the building where he first started his career as a clerk. Then he re-acquired his father’s farm where he used to raise livestock.

James Cash Penney died in 1971 at the age of 95. He married three times and had five children. Today, the company has more than 1,000 stores around the United States.


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