What is now called JCPenney, a fixture of suburban shopping malls,
started out as a small-town Main Street store that fused its
founder's interests in agriculture, retail business, religion, and
philanthropy. This book - at once a biography of Missouri farm
boy-turned-business icon James Cash Penney and the story of the
company he started in 1902 - brings to light the little-known
agrarian roots of an American department store chain. David Delbert
Kruger explores how the company, its stores, and their famous
founder shaped rural America throughout the twentieth century.
""Most of our stores,"" Penney explained in 1931, ""are located in
agricultural regions where the tide of merchandising rises and
falls with the prosperity of the farmers."" Despite the growth of
cities in the early twentieth century, Penney maintained his
stores' commitment to serving the needs of farmers and small-town
folk. Tracing this dedication to Penney's rural upbringing, Kruger
describes how, from one store in the sheep-ranching and mining town
of Kemmerer, Wyoming, J. C. Penney Co. became a familiar chain on
Main Street, USA, purveying value, providing good jobs, and marking
rites of passage in many an American childhood. Kruger paints a
biographical and historical picture of an American business mogul
distinctly different from comparable capitalists such as Andrew
Carnegie, Henry Ford, or Sam Walton. Despite his chain's corporate
structure, Penney imbued each store with a Golden Rule philosophy
that demanded mutual respect between customers, employees,
competitors, suppliers, and communities. By tracing that spirit to
its agrarian source, and following it through the twentieth
century, J. C. Penney: The Man, the Store, and American Agriculture
provides a new perspective on this American cultural institution -
and on its founder's unique brand of American capitalism.
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