Department Stores: Everything in One Place

By Bernd00 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The J.C. Penney “Mother Store” in Kemmerer, Wyo. (Photo by Bernd00 via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1902, James Cash Penney opened his first store in Kemmerer, Wyoming.

Here are some things you may not have known about J.C. Penney and department stores in general.

James Cash Penney Jr. was born in 1875 in Missouri. In 1898 he started working for a chain called the Golden Rule stores. The owners of the chain were impressed by Penney and offered to go into business with him. He moved to Wyoming, and with $2,000 opened his store. He later opened two more before buying out his partners in 1907.

In 1920, he owned 120 stores. That number grew to 1,400 in 1929. However, the stock market collapse of 1929 saw Penney lose virtually all his money, forcing him to borrow against life insurance policies to make payroll. He suffered health issues, which saw him check himself into the Battle Creek Sanitarium, run by John Harvey Kellogg. Kellogg was famous for his treatment regimen of corn flakes, exercise and enemas. While in Battle Creek, Penney became a born-again Christian. He relinquished daily control of the company, but stayed involved until his death in 1971.

By the time Penney opened his first store, the concept of a department store had been around for more than 100 years. Some claim the first department store was Bennett’s in Derby, England. The first reliably dated department store is Harding, Howell & Co. which opened on Pall Mall in London in 1798. Harrod’s in London opened in 1834. Le Bon Marche opened in Paris in 1838. That store is not related to the former American chain.

The first department store in America, was probably Arnold Constable and Company, which opened in New York in 1825. In 1858, R.H. Macy opened his dry goods store on Sixth Avenue in New York City. IN 1902, the company moved even further uptown to 34th Street and Broadway on Herald Square. The store eventually came to occupy almost the entire city block and was the largest store in the world from 1929 through 2009.

Our question: Where is the largest store in the world located?

Today is the beginning of new year festivals in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and parts of India.

It’s National Bookmobile Day, National Peach Cobbler Day and Scrabble Day.

It’s the birthday of U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, bank robber Butch Cassidy and writer Samuel Beckett.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1971, the top song in the U.S. was “Just My Imagination” by The Temptations.

The No. 1 movie was “Summer of ’42,” while the novel “QB VII” by Leon Uris topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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