Wednesday, March 21, 2012

J. C. Penny's Fair and Square, the Golden Rule Store and Childhood Memories of Ruth Sigford


J.C.Penny new 2012 logo
Lately, every time I saw the “Fair and Square” ads for J. C. Penney's logo, there was a nagging in the back of my mind. Finally the other day, the nagging came to full awareness. “Fair and Square” finally equated in my mind to the “Golden Rule Store” of my mother's childhood.

Several years ago, while I was writing a little book about all of the homes where my mother's family lived, my mother spent hours telling me stories of her childhood. One of the phrases that kept coming up was: “We went to the Golden Rule.” At first the comments had little meaning, but upon questioning her about what and where was the Golden Rule, it became clear that it was some sort of store. Over the course of our discussions, it became obvious that her memories around this Golden Rule store were more important than I had imagined.

My grandparents, Frank and Agnes Laura Sigford nee Keyes never had much money, but my mother told with a childhood's delight about how she and her little sister Gail would go to the Golden Rule and sometimes they would even get a “penny” sack of candy as a treat. As she talked about those times, it was as if all good things came from the Golden Rule, a new dress,  tablet,  pencil,  pair of shoes, and of course, the little sack of candy.

I could never get a clear answer from my mother as to where the Golden Rule was located, just a vague answer that indicated that the store was located on Main Street in Klamath Falls. So, I “goggled” Golden Rule Store as well as Golden Rule store in Klamath Falls; the following information brought into focus the Golden Rule store that my mother knew:

In 1902, 27 year old James Cash Penny (Cash was a family name) started the Golden Rule Store in Kemmerer, Wyoming. He had two revolutionary ideas for his new store –  his goods were cash only for a fixed price (no haggling)  and do unto other as you would have them do unto you. Later he would describe that first day of business in these words:
When we locked up at midnight and went upstairs to our attic room after the first day's business to figure out how we stood, there was wasn't a great deal of paper or for that matter 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.

J. C. Penny working  in the RockSprings Penny's store, about 1906
from The Antiplanner's J.C. Penney, Entrepenuer, 11/19/2008

During the next decade more Golden Rule stores were opened, and in 1913 the decision was made to change the name to the J.C. Penny Company.  In my mother's home town of Klamath Falls, Oregon ,a Golden Rule store was opened in 1910 – nine years before my mother was born.  According to the April 1, 1930 edition of the Klamath Falls Evening Herald, the “Golden Rule store marks 20 years.” By 1937, evidently the changes in the J.C. Penny Company finally reached Klamath Falls, as noted in the November 8th special edition of the Klamath Falls paper: “J. C. Penny to open in former Golden Rule store at 803 Main Street.”

Now, in 2012, with J. C. Penny's logo of “Fair and Square” harkening back to it's roots of the Golden Rule, I  hope that many a small child of 2012 may find the same sense of wonderment in their stores as Ruth Sigford found in the Golden Rule of the 1920s.
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© Joan Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications

12 comments:

  1. Another question answered by a prompt to do a bit of digging :-) Don't you just love the internet? And well done, JCP on his enterprising skills, without which little girls would have been without pencils, tablet and candy :-)

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    1. Jo, thanks for reading and commenting. TI'll bet that little girl wonderment was in your eye when you were a little one. Thanks

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  2. What an interesting post, Joan and one which shows clearly we need to pay attention to those mental niggles. I've never heard of the stores by this name but we had a Penny's (may even have been called JC Penny's in Fortitude Valley in Brisbane. it was one of the first stores I shopped alone in, when I was a schoolgirl. I remember buying a present for my Mother there for Mother's Day in the late 50s.

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    1. It's amazing to me how such a "little childhood memory" can make us recall similar things in our past. The first shopping alone is a big thing for any little girl, so Penny's in Brisbane must have been a safe place for a child --- good old Golden Rule.

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  3. I love stories about JC. He married into one of my mother's lines. It was his first wife, who worked beside him in the first store at Kemmerer, Lincoln County, Wyoming. I have the very same photo in my data base as part of the stories about JC and Berta.

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    1. Carol, how interesting! And a small world. I dinna have any idea that JC married into your family. His was certainly an interesting story --- and Kemmerer Wy was a real old company town in those days. Makes one wonder what kind of reception he got from the company and company store, eh??

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  4. Thanks for the new take on the "Golden Rule," Joan! Cathy @ palmsrv

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    1. Cathy, so nice to hear from you. You just can't imagine the look on my mother's face when she talked about going to the Golden Rule. She went from looking her 85 years to the wonderment of a 5 years old. I never forgot that day or the look on her face.

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  5. Joan, I had heard stories about J. C. Penney, but didn't know much about the start of his business. Your mother's experience puts such a personal touch to that. I can just see her eyes light up, just to hear you tell of it!

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  6. I loved mother's stories and was fascinated by the J.C.Penny/Golden Rule stories. Guess that makes it a win-win story. Thanks for stopping by, reading and commenting.

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  7. Joan, this was such a treat to read! We shopped at Penney's when I was a child, though it wasn't within walking distance for us. Have you written down all of your mother's memories of the Golden Rule? I wonder if the modern J. C. Penney company would be interested in hearing about them.

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    1. Nancy, so glad that you enjoyed this little story of the my mother and the Golden Rule story. You know, for days before I wrote the story, I kept thinking that I needed to tell someone (J.C.Penny or someone)about this connection between mother's childhood memories and how important the Golden Rule was to her as a child. So, finally I blogged it, but even now I keep thinking that perhaps I will hear from the J.C. Penny store. Thank for the comments -- very much appreciated.

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