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James Cash Penney

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James Cash Penney
Penney, c. 1902
James Cash Penney Jr.

(1875-09-16)September 16, 1875
DiedFebruary 12, 1971(1971-02-12) (aged 95)
Resting placeWoodlawn Cemetery (The Bronx, New York City)
Years active1898–1971
Known forEstablishing JCPenney department stores in 1902

James Cash Penney Jr. (September 16, 1875 – February 12, 1971) was an American businessman and entrepreneur who founded the JCPenney stores in 1902.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Penney was born on September 16, 1875, on a farm outside of Hamilton, Missouri, the seventh of twelve children, only six of whom lived to adulthood, born to James Cash Penney and Mary Frances (born Paxton) Penney. Penney's father was a Baptist preacher and farmer whose strict discipline included making his son pay for his own clothing once he reached eight years of age.[2]

After graduation from Hamilton High School, Penney intended to attend college with hopes of becoming a lawyer. His father's untimely death, however, forced a change in plans, and Penney was forced to work as a store clerk to help support the family. Penney's tuberculosis caused him to venture west to Longmont, Colorado.[2]

J. C. Penney stores[edit]

The JCPenney mother store in Kemmerer, Wyoming

In 1898, Penney began working for a small chain of stores in the Western United States, called the Golden Rule stores. In 1902, owners Guy Johnson and Thomas Callahan, impressed by his work ethic and salesmanship, offered him a one-third partnership in a new store he would open. Penney invested $2,000 and moved to Kemmerer, Wyoming, to open a store there. He participated in opening two more stores, and when Callahan and Johnson dissolved their partnership in 1907 he purchased full interest in all three stores.[3]

By 1912, there were 34 stores in the Rocky Mountain States. In 1913, he moved the company to the Kearns Building in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. The company was incorprated under the new name, J. C. Penney Company.

In 1916, he began to expand the chain east of the Mississippi River, and during the 1920s, the Penney company expanded nationwide, with 120 stores in 1920, most of which were still in the west. By 1924, Penney reported income of more than $1 million annually.[4] The number of stores reached 1,400 by 1929.

The large income allowed him to be heavily involved in many philanthropic causes during the 1920s. By 1921, he had a home on Belle Isle in Miami Beach, Florida. Penney and partner Ralph W. Gwinn invested heavily in Florida real estate, including 120,000 acres (490 km2) in Clay County. Some of this land became Penney Farms. This was also the start of Foremost Dairy Products Inc. Penney later recruited Paul E. Reinhold to run the dairy. Most of this work was halted with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression left Penney in financial ruin.[3]

After the crash, Penney lost virtually all his personal wealth and borrowed against his life insurance policies to help the company meet its payroll. The financial setbacks took a toll on his health, and he checked himself into the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, for treatment.

After hearing the hymn "God Will Take Care of You", written by Civilla D. Martin, sung at a service in the hospital's chapel, he became a born again Christian.[5]

Even after relinquishing daily operating management of the company, Penney continued his active involvement in managing the company and its stores. In 1940, during a visit to a store in Des Moines, Iowa, he trained a young Sam Walton on how to wrap packages with a minimal amount of paper and ribbon.[6] He remained chairman of the board until 1946, and after that, as honorary chairman until his death in 1971. Until the end of his life, he continued to go to his offices. Penney directed his stores to be closed on Sunday so employees could attend church.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Penney's boyhood home in Hamilton, Missouri, which was later moved from a farm to town for display

Penney was married three times. His first marriage, to Bertha Alva Hess (1869–1910) in 1899,[7] produced two sons before her death from pneumonia:[8][3]

  • Roswell Kemper Penney (1901–1971),[9] who married Willa Graff.[9]
  • James Cash Penney III (1903–1938),[10] who married Louise Ducoudray in 1927.[11]

After Bertha died in 1910, he married Mary Hortense Kimball (d. 1923) in July 1919. Mary gave birth to their son before her death of unspecified medical issues:[3]

  • Kimball Penney (1920–1979)

In 1926, Penney married Caroline Marie Autenrieth (1895–1992).[12] She was badly hurt in 1928 when she fell from a horse at their estate in White Plains, New York.[7] They had two daughters:[3]


Penney lived in New York City at 888 Park Avenue, though he spent the winters in Palm Springs, California.

On December 26, 1970, Penney fell and fractured his hip. A few weeks later, he suffered a heart attack and neverfully recovered. He died on February 12, 1971, in New York City.

The Reverend Dr. Norman Vincent Peale delivered the eulogy at the funeral. Penney was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York City, not far from the grave of fellow retail entrepreneur, F. W. Woolworth. His estate was valued at approximately $35 million.[17]



Penney was a Freemason most of his adult life, initiated into Wasatch Lodge No. 1 Free and Accepted Masons of Utah, on April 18, 1911.[18][19] A member of both the Scottish and York Rites, Penney was coroneted a 33rd Degree on October 16, 1945, and received the Gold Distinguished Service Award by the General Grand Chapter, Royal Arch Masons, in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1958. He typically wore a large ring showing his Masonic degree.

Professional fraternities[edit]

Penney was a member of two professional collegiate fraternities: Alpha Gamma Rho for agriculture and Alpha Kappa Psi for business.

University of Miami[edit]

Penney was involved with the founding of the University of Miami, and served on its Board of Trustees from 1926 to 1930.[20]


At the end of the Great Depression in 1939, Penney teamed with Thomas J. Watson, president and founder of IBM, Arthur Godfrey, the radio and TV personality; and Norman Vincent Peale, a minister, inspirational speaker, and author of The Power of Positive Thinking, to help Henry Simler, an executive with Remington Rand[21] form the first board of 40Plus, an organization that helps unemployed managers and executives.[citation needed]

Awards and philanthropy[edit]

In 1953, the Springfield, Missouri Chamber of Commerce presented Penney with a "Ozark Hillbilly Medallion" and a certificate proclaiming him a "hillbilly of the Ozarks."[22][23]

Penney founded the James C. Penney Foundation in 1954. The foundation was restructured in 1999, with half the proceeds going to the Penney Family Fund, which is not affiliated with J. C. Penney Co., Inc., or its corporate giving program. The Penney Family Fund supports national organizations and state-based ones in Georgia, [[North Carolina], [[Arizona][, and New Mexico that work to advance racial and environmental justice.

In 1960, Penney teamed up with the University of Missouri to establish the Penney-Missouri Awards to recognize excellence in Women's Page journalism, hoping to improve the sections where his stores most often advertised.[24]


  • The J. C. Penney Conference Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis was dedicated in his honor on January 23, 1972. The building was made possible through financial donations by Mr. Penney and his company.
  • Mr. Penney was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1976.
  • In 1926, Penney founded a retirement community in Northeast Florida for retired ministers in honor of his father. Today that community is still in existence, bearing his name, and is located in the town that also bears his name, Penney Farms, Florida.
  • The J. C. Penney Historic District in Kemmerer, Wyoming, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1978.
  • In 1994, Penney was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians, and a bronze bust depicting him is on permanent display in the rotunda of the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.
  • James Cash Penney was inducted into the 4-H Hall of Fame in 2002[25]
  • James Cash Penney Hall at the National 4-H Center[26]
  • Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Missouri, was renamed Penney High School.[27]


  1. ^ Barmash, Isadore (February 13, 1971). "J. C. Penney of Store Chain Dies; Built Business on 'Golden Rule'". The New York Times. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Brown, John W. Missouri Legends: Famous People From The Show-Me State. Reedy Press: St. Louis, 2008. ISBN 9781933370286
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "J. C. Penney Papers A Guide to the Collection". legacy.lib.utexas.edu. University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  4. ^ "J.C. Penney – Family and Philanthropies". Archived from the original on May 17, 2000. Retrieved April 13, 2007.
  5. ^ "The Hymn That Saved J.C. Penney". Archived from the original on December 10, 2007. Retrieved April 13, 2007.
  6. ^ "An American original, Sam Walton embodies the entrepreneurial spirit and epitomizes the American Dream". July 5, 2000. Retrieved March 15, 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Mrs. J.C. Penney Badly Hurt as Horse Trips; Thrown While Riding on Westchester Estate". The New York Times. October 2, 1928. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  8. ^ Kruger, David Delbert (2017). J. C. Penney: The Man, the Store, and American Agriculture. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 304. ISBN 9780806158419. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  9. ^ a b "DIED. PENNEY—Roswell K." The New York Times. September 16, 1971. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  10. ^ "J. C. PENNEY JR.; Son of Merchant Had Introduced Gliding in This Country". The New York Times. June 8, 1938. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  11. ^ "Penney – Ducoudray". The New York Times. March 16, 1927. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  12. ^ "Caroline A. Penney, A Philanthropist, 96". The New York Times. March 19, 1992. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  13. ^ "Mary Frances Wagley, dedicated educator and the first woman to join the MIT Corporation, dies at 93" MIT News. November 13, 2020.
  14. ^ "MISS MARY PENNEY WED TO PHYSICIAN; Daughter of Stores' Founder Bride of Philip F. Wagley in Christ Episcopal, Rye". The New York Times. June 21, 1953. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  15. ^ "Carol Penney Guyer, 72; Philanthropist, Daughter of Retailer". Los Angeles Times. July 20, 2002.
  16. ^ "500 HONOR PENNEY ON 80TH BIRTHDAY; Attend Lawn Party at Home of Merchant – Hoover and Baruch Send Messages". The New York Times. September 18, 1955. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  17. ^ "J. C. Penney's Estate Is Estimated at $35-Million". The New York Times. March 2, 1971. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  18. ^ "Wasatch Lodge #1 F&AM - Freemasons of Salt Lake City, Utah » James "JC" Penny".
  19. ^ "James Cash Penney". freemasonry.bcy.ca.
  20. ^ Tebeau, Charlton W. The University of Miami. Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 1976. p. 393.
  21. ^ New York Times obituary of Henry Simler, June 27, 1954. "Henry Simler, 78, Is Dead on Coast"
  22. ^ "Innovative Rates Program. Final report". June 21, 1982. doi:10.2172/5787831. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  23. ^ "Barnes, Alfred Edward, (3 June 1881–23 Oct. 1956)", Who Was Who, Oxford University Press, December 1, 2007, doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.u234430, retrieved October 27, 2020
  24. ^ Voss, Kimberly Wilmot (Spring 2006). "The Penney-Missouri Awards: Honoring the Best in Women's News". Journalism History. 32: 43–50. doi:10.1080/00947679.2006.12062697. S2CID 140928882.
  25. ^ "National Association of Extension 4-H Agents". nae4ha.com.
  26. ^ "500.11.02 - J.C. Penney Hall at the National 4-H Center | Chevy Chase Historical Society". chevychasehistory.pastperfectonline.com. Retrieved February 29, 2024.
  27. ^ "Penney High School". Archived from the original on August 24, 2011. Retrieved March 16, 2011.

Further reading[edit]

  • Kruger, David Delbert (2008). "J.C. Penney: Missouri Man, Wyoming Institution". Annals of Wyoming: The Wyoming History Journal. Vol. 80, no. 2. Wyoming State Historical Society. pp. 20–36.
  • Kruger, David D., "James Cash Penney: The Impact of a Main Street Merchant on Oklahoma," Chronicles of Oklahoma, 89 (Fall 2011), 260–87.
  • J. C. Penney: the man with a thousand partners: an auto-biography of J. C. Penney as told to Robert W. Bruere (1931)

External links[edit]