13 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About JCPenney

You know JCPenney for their awesome sales, but how much do you know about the store's history?

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JCPenney is one of the country’s largest department stores, with about 875 stores in the United States and a brand that’s become synonymous with suburban malls. At this one-stop shop, customers can shop for clothes and appliances, and also get a haircut, take family photos and pick out a new pair of eyeglasses. Yet, the department store is struggling to keep its doors open amid competition with Amazon and online retailers.

Beyond the JCPenney coupons and catalogs, the company has an interesting backstory peppered with principles like “The Golden Rule” and a fair warning of what can happen when you watch too many viral cat videos at work.

Here’s 13 facts you probably didn’t know about JCPenney.

1. The Founder’s Name Is An Aptronym

Defined, an aptronym is when a person’s name is amusingly appropriate given their occupation. (Think: Usain Bolt, a lightning fast runner). James Cash Penney was the founder of JCPenney, and he has a name that’s, well, rich with money and deal references.

james cash penney photo
Flickr | jpowers65

2. James Cash Penney First Opened A Butcher Business

Penney was born and raised in Missouri, but he moved out west after his doctor told him the region’s drier climate would be a boon for his health, according to the Wyoming State Historical Project. His first stop was in Longmont, Colorado, where he opened a butcher shop in 1898. His foray into the butcher shop business failed, though, because a local hotel didn’t buy from him after straitlaced Penney refused to give liquor to the hotel cook.

3. The First JCPenney Was Founded in Wyoming

JCPenney got its start in Kemmerer, Wyo., a small coal mining town. The store sold goods to coal miners and their families at affordable prices, according to the Wyoming State Historical Society.

4. But JCPenney Wasn’t The Original Store Name

The store was originally named “The Golden Rule.” Today, JCPenney says the original name set the standard for which the company has operated on for more than a century, treating others the way it, too, would like to be treated. The name JCPenney was incorporated in 1913.

5. JCPenney Still Believes in Honoring “The Golden Rule”

The company states that it still values the the golden rule mantra. The store has a nonprofit organization, the JCPenney Foundation. The foundation supports organizations like the Y, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and After-School All-Stars, helping provide clothing and career readiness programs to underserved children.

jc penney photo
Flickr | The U.S. National Archives

6. Fedoras Got The First JCPenney Private Label

In 1914, JCPenney launched its first private-label brand with Marathon Hats, according to the company’s history. The line of elegant fedoras were followed by “Big Mac” private-label work shirts that started at 69 cents, according to Fortune, and dapper Waverly caps that sold for just under $2 during the Great Depression.

7. JCPenney Became Publicly Traded in 1929

One week before the market crash and the onset of the Great Depression, JCPenney became a publicly traded company, according to store history.

8. JCPenney Once Had A Cash Only Policy

It wasn’t until 1958 that JCPenney allowed credit sales.

9. Penney Remained Involved in the Stores

Penney, the store’s founder, would still make rounds in his stores during the 1960s, according to Inc., sometimes stepping behind the counters to help out customers. He served on the company’s board of directors until he died in 1971 at age 95.

10. The First JCPenney Catalog Was Introduced in 1963

But, JCPenney stopped printing its catalogs, which had grown to 1,000 pages, in 2010. Then, it hopped back in the catalog business again in 2015. A company spokeswoman told NPR that consumers still liked to browse the catalog, and then purchase the items online or in a brick-and-mortar store.

jc penney catalog photo
Getty Images | Scott Olson

11. JCPenney Employees Watched A Lot of YouTube Videos

In January 2012, the 4,800 people who worked at JCPenney’s headquarters in Plano, Texas, watched 5 million YouTube videos while on the clock, hogging almost a third of the headquarter’s bandwidth, Michael Kramer, the company’s chief operating officer, revealed to the Wall Street Journal. Subsequently, more than 1,600 people were laid off.

12. Sam Walton worked for JCPenney

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, got his start in retail working as a management trainee at a JCPenney in Des Moines, Iowa, according to The New York Times.

13. JCPenney Shut Down A Bunch of Stores in 2017

Citing online competition as a major hurdle, JCPenney announced in 2017 that it would be shutting down 130 to 140 stores, plus two distribution centers.

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