Push On For Postage Stamp Honoring Founder Of Wyoming-Born JCPenney Stores

James Cash Penney is an American legend who started his iconic JCPenney brand in Kemmerer, Wyoming. U.S. Senator Cynthia Lummis is getting behind a grassroots group pushing to put Penney on a postage stamp.

RJ
Renée Jean

September 12, 20234 min read

A statue of James Cash Penney is put up in front of his first store in Kemmerer, Wyoming.
A statue of James Cash Penney is put up in front of his first store in Kemmerer, Wyoming. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

School children in Kemmerer, Wyoming, all learn about James Cash Penney, who opened the first JCPenney store in their home town in 1902.

Soon they could also be seeing him on a commemorative postage stamp. 

U.S. Senator Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, has asked the U.S. Postal Service Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee to consider issuing a postal stamp recognizing Penney’s life and legacy.

A representative of Lummis’ office told Cowboy State Daily that she learned during Golden Rules Day in Kemmerer that the JCPenney Alumni Group has been working to get a stamp honoring Penney. 

Lummis decided to lend a hand by writing a letter to the committee in support of the idea. 

“U.S. postage stamps give us the opportunity to celebrate great Americans and their lasting contributions to our nation,” Lummis said. “As the founder of JCPenney, James Cash Penney not only began building a retail empire from his home in Kemmerer, but he also dedicated much of his personal and professional resources to education, agriculture, and religious organizations.”

Throughout his life, Penney often engaged in significant philanthropic efforts, many of which left lasting impacts on not just Wyoming, but the nation.

“His legacy deserves to be memorialized with a U.S. postage stamp,” Lummis said.

The first JCPenny store, the company's "mother store," in Kemmerer, Wyoming.
The first JCPenny store, the company's "mother store," in Kemmerer, Wyoming. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

The James Cash Penney Legend

Penney is perhaps nowhere more loved than in Kemmerer, where he planted the his first store, which was then called the Golden Rule store. 

Penney’s partners had wanted him to open that first store in Ogden, Utah, but Penney wanted to locate in a smaller town. He had his sights set on tiny Diamondville, Wyoming.

“They’re my kind of people,” Penney told his partners. “They’re ranchers and miners. We understand each other.”

Kemmerer, a muddy village between two boom towns, was a compromise. 

Penney couldn’t afford train fare to Kemmerer twice, so he had to commit to the town sight unseen. He studied the community carefully before opening his store, ensuring he understood what the community really needed.

Many merchants and a prominent banker in town warned him at the time a cash-only store would never fly. Three other businesses had already tried and failed to compete with the company store. They couldn’t fathom any way for a cash-only store like Penney was proposing to survive.

Penney, however, was committed to Kemmerer at this point. It was go big or go home in disgrace. He stocked his store carefully with affordable goods that he knew people in the community needed and wanted. And then he topped it off with outstanding customer service, ensuring they would come back for more.

At the end of his first day of business, his receipts totaled $466.59. Almost enough to repay the $500 in life savings he’d used for the $1,500 banknote that bought his one-third stake in the Kemmerer store.

A statue of James Cash Penney, who founded JCPenney, stands in Kemmerer, Wyoming.
A statue of James Cash Penney, who founded JCPenney, stands in Kemmerer, Wyoming. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

He Dreamed Big

With the success of his store, Kemmerer was soon dreaming big. At night after the store closed, he would talk to his wife about his dreams for the future in their little attic. The couple could barely afford a bed when they started out, but that didn’t stop Penney from dreaming big.

Maybe they would own six stores, he told her. Later, he amended that to perhaps 25 stores.

Ultimately, though, Penney would open far more stores than that. At the company’s peak, there were nearly 1,700 stores across the nation. 

Cash always retained a soft spot in his heart for Kemmerer, never selling that first home that he and his first wife built. Today it is a museum and open for tours.

“It’s impossible for me to adequately express how I feel toward the Kemmerer store,” Penney would write in a letter to Pete Schmook, one-time manager of the Kemmerer store. “It was there that I found myself. Every night, I thank God for the opportunity that was given me there.

“Little did I dream when I opened the Kememrer store that it would someday be known as the ‘Mother Store’ of nearly 1,700 stores bearing my name.”

That legacy is celebrated every year in Kemmerer with Golden Rule Days, but it’s also on display year-round with both the Mother Store remaining open in Kemmerer and the James Cash Penney home open for tours. 

Thousands of tourists are drawn to Kemmerer every year, taking time to either shop in Penney’s first store or visit the James Cash Penney home.

Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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RJ

Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter