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Academy of Achievement J C Penney

J. C. Penney*

Inducted 1990

Born James Cash Penney in 1875 in the town of Hamilton, Missouri, he was one of 12 children. He began his working career at the age of eight when he was required by his father to take responsibility for paying for his own clothes.

Penney was 20 when he began his apprenticeship with a local shopkeeper. Although he attained the third highest in sales in his first year, Penney was obliged to move to Denver in 1897 for health reasons. After a brief and unsuccessful attempt at running his own butcher shop in Longmont, Penney began employment with Johnston and Callahan dry goods stored in Colorado.

In 1900 Penney advanced with Johnston and Callahan to manage their branch mercantile store in Evanston, WY. It was an introduction to the chain store concept of merchandising. In 1902 Johnston and Callahan assisted Penney in opening his own mercantile store in Kemmerer, WY. With first year sales reaching almost $29,000, Penney was encouraged to open stores in Cumberland and Rock Springs, WY. The expansion and rapid growth of his business impelled Penney to develop a policy to guarantee the successful management of each new store, including giving each of the new associates that were hired a financial interest in the store. The Golden Rule, as his company was known by at that time, had high expectations of its employees and was adverse to them drinking and smoking.

James Cash Penney married Berta Hess in 1899. After her death, he married Hortense Kimball in 1919 and after her death he married Caroline Autenreith. Penney believed that marriage was not only important but also necessary and that a good home life was essential in the success of a man’s career.

In 1908 Penney bought out the three stores that his two partners owned and was on his way to phenomenal expansion throughout the US, bringing his total number of Golden Rule stores from thirty-four in 1912 to one hundred ninety-seven in 1917, when J.C.Penney became chairman. The name Golden Rule was changed to J.C.Penney in 1919. By 1928 there were over one thousand stores in the J.C.Penney chain and total sales had reached over $176 million.

J.C.Penney became a corporation with shares being listed on the New York Stock Exchange in October 1929, shortly before the disastrous stock market crash. Despite hard times throughout the world, the J.C.Penney chain of stores continued to expand.

Mr. Penney resigned as chairman of the board in 1958 but continued to serve on the board and kept up his interest in philanthropic work. At the time of his death in 1971 at the age of 95, Mr. Penney had four surviving children, two sons and two daughters.