The year was 1902 and a 27 year old man arrived by train in Kemmerer, Wyoming to start a new business. He couldn't afford the train fare twice, so he made a committment in dollars before seeing the town. A scattered mining community, Kemmerer had about one thousand residents, a company store that operated on credit and 21 saloons where a good deal of spare cash was spent.
Two revolutionary ideas - cash only and do unto others as you would have them do unto you - were the basis for James Cash Penney's new business venture. (The middle name is a family name, not chosen to express his retail philosophy). He named the store the Golden Rule.
"When the sun rose over Kemmerer, Wyoming, April 14, 1902, it gilded a sign reading "GOLDEN RULE STORE, and I was in business as a full partner. The firm name was Johnson, Callahan and Penney, but it was used only for bookkeeping purposes. In setting up a business under the name and meaning of Golden Rule, I was publicly binding myself, in my business relations, to a principle which had been a real intimate part of my family upbringing. To me the sign on the store was much more than a trade name. We took our slogan "Golden Rule Store" with strict literalness. Our idea was to make money and build business through serving the community with fair dealing and honest value, and did business cash-and-carry."
"When we locked the store at midnight and went upstairs to our attic room after the first day's business to figure out how we stood, there wasn't a great deal of paper money or. for that matter, so many silver dollars; but there was an astonishing - to us - wealth in pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and half-dollars. Our first day's sales amounted actually to only $33.41 shy of the $500 savings we had put with the note for $1500 to pay for the partnership."
"Having made the point of a new store by opening up at sunrise on the first day, we then settled on an opening of 7 a.m. Closing time was when no more people in the streets seemed to be heading for the store. Saturday nights, that meant at least midnight. We couldn't make perpetual-motion machines of ourselves and on Sunday opened the store at 9 a.m."
During 1911 and 1912 twenty stores were added, bringing the total number of Golden Rule Stores to thirty-four. So it was Kemmerer, Wyoming, that gave Mr. James Cash Penney his start in business, and in 1913 the decision was made to change the Golden Rule Store to the J.C. Penney Company. The mother store is still a thriving business in Kemmerer.
Restored Penney home open to public
The Penney's first home was restored in 1982 and moved to Penney Avenue on the Triangle, where it is now a museum operated by the J.C. Penney Foundation. The six room cottage is a National Historic Landmark. It is open during the spring and summer. Mr. Penney's home and the "mother store" are "must" photographs for thousands of tourists each year.