This is the day that … James Cash Penney was born near Hamilton, Missouri in 1875 in Missouri, USA, son of a Primitive Baptist preacher.
At age 8 he was buying his own clothes and earning his own money for his needs. He was taught scrupulous honesty by his minister father.
At the age of 27 (1902) he had opened his first store, the Golden Rule Store, in Wyoming. And it was so named because he was committed to building his business “on bedrock Christian ethics”.
And build he did. Five years later he owned three stores, then, by 1912, he had 34 stores with sales of over $2 million. In 1913 he changed the store name to J.C. Penney Co.
“From 1917 to 1929 the business exploded, growing to nearly 1400 stores nationwide” (More Than Conquerors, Moody Press, page 342).
In the stock market crash of 1929 he lost $40 million. There followed a time of failed health and convalescence in a sanatorium. Here he experienced a “spiritual renewal” – at the age of 56. He heard someone playing hymns on the organ, so he walked in there, bowed down and said, ‘Lord, I’m giving my life to You’. Once more began his climb up the business ladder. The J.C. Penney Company began to flourish once more.
Penney was a man of strict principal, who refused all drink and tobacco and “For many years anyone who used tobacco and liquor was discharged” (page 342). He became convinced (internally “convicted”) that, even in debt and poverty, he should tithe to God. By 1990 sales topped $18 million.
When he died at the age of 95 the New York Times commented that Penney’s adherence to the Golden Rule had “aroused scepticism in a mercenary age” … but the success of his business “put the lie to the cynics”. He left a 1,660-store empire that he built without compromising the stiff principles he had absorbed from three generations of Baptist preacher ancestors.
“I believe in adherence to the Golden Rule, faith in God and the country,” he often said. “I would rather be known as a Christian than a merchant.”
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.