(p. A19) Many American entrepreneurs have obsessed over how to make good use of their wealth. The money of steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie built 1,689 public libraries. Julius Rosenwald, the genius behind Sears, Roebuck, devoted much of his fortune to funding schools for African-American children in the rural South. Oil magnate John D. Rockefeller gave vast sums to medical research, higher education and Baptist missions. For James Cash Penney, the obsession was farming. As David Delbert Kruger shows in “J.C. Penney: The Man, the Store, and American Agriculture,” the famed merchant’s devotion to his rural roots brought not just commercial success but also meaning in life.
. . .
Penney’s farming ventures began in 1921, when he bought 720 acres near Hopewell Junction, N.Y., hired a veteran breeder and worked with him to select the best Guernsey cattle he could find. Emmadine Farm would operate for more than 30 years, supplying breeding stock to small farmers around the country and eventually furnishing a large commercial dairy.
Four years later, Penney purchased 120,000 acres in northeast Florida, intending to create a utopian community where committed, morally upright families could build a future on 20-acre plots, living rent-free for a year and using buildings and equipment provided by Penney to grow their first crop before deciding whether to buy the land. He hired experts who encouraged the farmers to be self-sufficient and advised them on when and how to plant vegetables and fruit trees. Initially, Penney Farms flourished, but then disaster struck: crop prices collapsed, the farmers moved away and in 1930 Penney’s own fortune was wiped out. The following year, the entrepreneur was hospitalized following a nervous breakdown.
For the full review, see:
Marc Levinson. “BOOKSHELF; The Cowboy Capitalist.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 25, 2017): A19.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 24, 2017.)
The book under review, is:
Kruger, David Delbert. J. C. Penney: The Man, the Store, and American Agriculture. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017.