Friday, February 16, 2018

Penney's contributions to agriculture highlighted in new book

Though J.C. Penney stores were popular with small-town and rural farmers in the early 1900's, few knew about the retail mogul's passion for improving the lives of animal agriculturists. David Delbert Kruger's new biography, published by University of Oklahoma Press, focuses on just that.

In J.C. Penney: The Man, The Store, and American Agriculture, Kruger brings readers back to Penney's roots as a Missouri boy whose Baptist-preacher father eked out a living on the family farm. Penney wanted to attend college but needed to support his family. So he took a job in retail, and eventually took a job at a Colorado dry-goods store, The Golden Rule. His work ethic impressed the owners so much that they allowed him to open his own store in Wyoming. When the owners dissolved their partnership in 1907, he bought all three stores and launched the J.C. Penney Co.

Penney established his corporate headquarters in New York City, and bought some acreage north of the city where he could enjoy a hobby farm. But his interest in agriculture didn't end there. "Penney recognized that his store customers made a living off the land. The productivity of dairy cattle in rural America, for instance, was much lower than dairy cows in Europe," Bill Spiegel writes for The High Plains Journal. "In 1921, he began buying the best Guernsey sires and dams from around the world, bringing them to his Emmadine Farm in New York. From 1927 to the farm’s dispersal in 1953, Penney eagerly shared his knowledge with other dairy farmers, and sold progeny from his Foremost Guernsey herd in an effort to boost profits of the people who were his primary store customers."

Though his forays into agriculture weren't always successful, Kruger paints a picture of a man who worked hard to improve farm animals' genetics and American agriculture overall.

No comments: