J. C. Penney’s Middle Name Really Was “Cash”


Grand opening of a new J. C. Penney store in downtown Lincoln, November 16, 1950. NSHS RG2183-1950-1116-2

James Cash Penney wasn’t a Nebraskan, and he started his famous retail franchise in Wyoming, but he opened stores in more than fifty Nebraska towns. No merchant before or since has come close to that mark. David Delbert Kruger tells the story in “Main Street Empire: J. C. Penney in Nebraska” in the Summer 2011 issue of Nebraska History.

“For me, innately, cities were places to keep away from,” Penney wrote. “Small towns were where I was at home.” For many years, J. C. Penney locations were small, storefront operations that carried merchandise geared toward the needs of a rural population.

True to his middle name, Penney was “philosophically opposed to selling merchandise on credit, and currency was seldom exchanged or kept on the main sales floor,” Kruger writes.

Thus, when customers purchased items from J. C. Penney stores with balconies—such as stores in Albion, Falls City, Fremont, Kearney, or Scottsbluff—the sales clerk would take the customer’s money and place it with a bill of sale, inside a closed container attached to a cable line. The container would then be cabled up to the balcony overlooking the sales floor, where another associate would retrieve the cash before sending the container back down with a receipt and correct change. These cable cash conveyor systems remained in place until secure cash registers made them obsolete.

By the 1950s, the franchise was operating large-scale stores in Omaha and Lincoln, but only in the 1960s and ’70s did it evolve into the shopping mall anchor that we’re familiar with today. Penney himself continued to work five days a week in his New York office until his death at age ninety-five in 1971.

—David Bristow, Associate Director for Research and Publications

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2 Responses to J. C. Penney’s Middle Name Really Was “Cash”

  1. Norm Prince says:

    Just another thank you for the interesting short story about J C Penny. I find most all of the history shared on this this of much interest. The stories are short enough to keep my attention, factual enough to add to my short memory retention, and in many cases of events which took place during my life. Great to see this picture and note all the hats that both ladies and men wore. Noted the elevator in the back as well as the stair case. Just great, thanks.

  2. Phil Harris says:

    I think it was New Years Eve day, 1966 or 1967, our home caught fire in the early hours of the morning and was destroyed. We all got out safely, but we lost everything but the pajamas we were wearing.

    One of the memories that has always stayed with me, is that the manager of the J.C. Penney store in Holdrege opened the store for us (on a Sunday I think) and allowed us to get some clothes.

    I have had a good feeling about J.C. Penney ever since.

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