American success starts with an idea, or philosophy. Any success in human existence starts with the same. However what many people seem to miss is that the core of any great idea, starts with God. In the Bible, the Book of Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon sometime around 931 BC. Ecclesiastes 12:13 says, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandment’s, for this is man’s all.” Finally, Ecclesiastes 12 in summary concludes that the only value in life, is to live life from the perspective of God’s endless economy. That is, the faithful perspective that God is omnipresent and in control over all things.
It is normal that each person searches for certain meanings and reasons in life. Everyone must build a foundation upon which they live their personal and daily lives. The author of Ecclesiastes, Solomon, would find out that worldly goals that do not lead towards God will only bring frustration, uncertainty, and disappointment. Enter here, Mr. James Cash Penney. This man would find out soon enough that Solomon was right on point.
J. C. Penney, through traditional hard-work and a careful lifestyle, would achieve success in building one of greatest retail companies in American history. In his biography it was written that from “inauspicious beginnings rose one of the great entrepreneurs in American history, a man with unusual dedication and exceptionally high ideals. James Cash Penney, Jr., was born September 16, 1875, near Hamilton, Missouri, to the Reverend James C. Penney and his wife, Fanny. The boy was one of twelve children, only six of whom survived to adulthood. His father was a less-than-prosperous Baptist preacher who also farmed.”
“A man of strong Christian beliefs and upright morals, Reverend Penney raised his son with an abiding faith in God. The foundation of Penney's life was the Christian ethic of the Golden Rule, plus self-reliance, self-discipline, and a concept of personal honor. James Cash Penney climbed His way from humble beginnings to the top of the international retail market by an abiding practice of the name of His first store, The Golden Rule. In 1889 Penney took a small position in a dry goods store of the name The Golden Rule. Penney worked ambitiously and by 1902 He had impressed the owners into granting him a partnership. He opened His first Golden Rule department store on April 14, 1902 in Kemmerer, Wyoming.”
J. C. Penney looked for business “partners who could work as hard as he could while sharing his deep Christian values, which [for him personally] included complete abstinence from alcohol and tobacco.” Mr. Penney would bring his idea of retail stores across the Western Rockies, based upon Christian Ethic, or what is more commonly known today as the “Protestant Ethic.” His ground-breaking ways of running shop would start by charging a flat price to all customers arriving to his stores, regardless of class and social standing. After making a couple smart business moves, Mr. Penney gained three more Golden Rule stores. Expansion would soon become a forefront of his business model.
In 1913, J.C. Penney would end up basing his retail operations out of Utah. Because of his entrance into the state as an “outsider,” he was required by law to change the name of his company. And thus, what we know today as the J.C. Penney Co. was established. Going back to Mr. Penney’s personal faith and ethic, he devised a plan to highlight the company’s official slogan as, “Honor, Confidence, Service, and Cooperation.”
Showing his Christian values firsthand, Mr. Penney founded the J. C. Penney Foundation in 1925. He would go on to assist groups such as adoption programs, homeless shelters, youth organizations, vocational schools, libraries, family counseling centers, missions and missionary programs, and health clinics (among others). He would also go on to build a 120k-acre farming community in northern Florida. There, poor and needy individuals could arrive to work, farm, and rebuild their livelihoods. Mr. Penney would even go on to build a 60-acre Memorial Home Community, where retired pastors/ministers, church volunteers and works, missionaries, and their entire families could live in peace.
It was during the Great Depression of the 1930’s that Mr. Penney would experience extreme financial hardships. This in turn would lead to significant stress, which would transform into a life-threatening sickness. While he was in the hospital, his wife and son would receive many “goodbye” letters, written in sadness. The next morning, Mr. Penney would awake and go for a walk down the hospital hallway. As he walked, he heard a faint singing, which grew louder as he continued.
Mr. Penney would arrive at the hospital chapel, where he would walk inside and listen to hymns and psalms with a sad heart. It was the song, “God Will Take Care of You” that had punctually put hope into his soul. Soon after, in a life-transforming instant, Penney was saved and changed. He had discovered that God was there to help him. He would take these Christian principles with him into the business world.
According to James Cash Penney himself, the company slogan of “Honor, Confidence, Service, and Cooperation,” was officially applied to the company philosophy, doctrine, and mission as a daily routine. In the end, he would go public with the J. C. Penney Company. He would give all managers shares of the company stock and would later also include all associates in corporate profit-sharing. This was generous for the typical American corporation.
By 1971, J.C. Penney had 1660 stores in North America. He was quoted as saying, “From that day to this, my life has been free from worry.” It was in the face of circumstances that could have meant a physical death, it was J. C. Penney, right there next to Solomon the author of Ecclesiastes. He also found a new life. He would find the most foundational answer to all of life—God’s unconditional love.
The rest is history...
Daniel L. Smith,
 Penney, James C. J.C. Penney: the Man with a Thousand Partners: An Autobiography of J.C. Penney. 1931.
 Kruger, David Delbert. 2012. “Earl Corder Sams and the Rise of J. C. Penney.” Kansas History 35 (3): 164–85.
 Penney, James C.
 Lee, Richard. "Ecclesiastes." In The American Patriot's Bible, NKJV. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2012.