The J.C. Penney Company

Our third BIG THREE retail chain was founded by James Cash Penney. The original location, called the Golden Rule, opened for business, in Kemmerer, Wyoming, on April 14, 1902.

A latter-day portrait of James Cash Penney (1875-1971), who hailed from Hamilton, Missouri. Known as "King of the Soft Goods", he was the only BIG THREE founding father to live long enough to see the retail chain he created reach its full potential.
Photo from

Penney's first Golden Rule store, circa-1902. In 1904, it was moved to a new location in Kemmerer.  
Drawing from The Mid-Cities Daily News

An interior view of a Golden Rule mercantile. That's a very young James Cash Penney on the right.
Photo from the J.C. Penney Archives, DeGolyer Library

Business went well at the first Kemmerer store. By 1907, 3 Golden Rule mercantiles were in operation in Wyoming. A fourth location opened in Utah in 1908. 34 stores had been established, in 8 western states, by 1912. Soon after, Golden Rule stores began to operate under a combination Golden Rule-J.C. Penney Company masthead.

The corporate headquarters was located in Salt Lake City, Utah between 1909 and 1914, when it was moved to New York City. The first stores east of the Mississippi followed, in 1915, with new operations in Wausua and Watertown, Wisconsin. The Golden Rule co-branding had been dropped by 1919.



Growth of the chain was explosive during the 1920s. By 1921, the J.C. Penney Company had become the nation's first transcontinental retail chain. In 1927, 750 stores were in operation in 45 states. The 1,000th was dedicated, in Beloit, Kansas, in April 1928.

In spite of the Great Depression, the company continued to expand. The store count in 1936 had reached 1,496. By August 1956, there were 1,709 J.C. Penney stores across the 48 states.