What’s in a label? The Genealogy of Big Mac by JC Penney

July 10, 2011 § 42 Comments

History of Big Mac by JC Penney:

James Cash Penney (what a name) was born September 16, 1875 on a farm outside of Hamilton, Caldwell County, Missouri to James Cash Penney, Sr. and Mary Frances (nee Paxton) Penney, the 7th of 12 children.  In 1898 he began working at a small chain of dry goods stores called The Golden Rule.

In 1902, he opened his own Golden Rule clothing store in Kemmerer, Wyoming.  According to that venerable and exclusive source, Vintage Fashion Guild, he partnered at that time with William Henry McManus.  But according to that equally respectable research institution, Wikipedia, he partnered with Guy Johnson and Thomas Callahan to open The Golden Rule, but did not partner with McManus until 1913.  Regardless, achieving success, The Golden Rule moved its headquarters to Salt Lake City either in 1909 or 1913, depending on which source you’re looking at, “to be closer to banks and railroads.”  Around this time Mr. Penney acquired the majority holdings, and they incorporated under the name J.C. Penney Company.  In 1920 they acquired The Crescent Corset Company, their first wholly owned subsidiary.  But most importantly, “In 1922, the company’s oldest active private brand, Big Mac work clothes, was launched.”  Big Mac work wear continues to be produced by JC Penney to this day.

That’s a nice one, don’t you think?

Penneys opens a whole bunch of stores, grows and grows, spawns one Sam Walton in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1940, who went on to found a well-known behemoth in 1962.

James was both a a Freemason and a born-again Christian.  In 1971, James Cash Penney died at the age of 95.  He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, in the Bronx in New York City.

Out of respect for their founder, the company adopted the JCPenney logo, which they use to this day:

Wikipedia lead me to these little gems at Southern Methodist University (which is where my grandfather, James Lowell “Bill” Hamilton used to teach): pdfs of The Dynamo, the J.C. Penney Co. newsletters from 1917-1932.  Finding mentions of Big Mac in them proved complicated since they’re not well indexed, and since they are chock-a-block with articles such as “Benefits I Receive From Attending Church,” and tracts on how to be a good J.C. Penney wife, in addition to news about the company, inspirational tips on how to be a better salesman, and charmingly, birth and marriage announcements for Penney employees.

Incidentally, the J.C. Penney Historic District in Kemmerer, Wyoming is now a national landmark.

The Big Mac by JC Penney Trademark:

Mark Image

Word Mark BIG MAC
Goods and Services IC 025. US 039. G & S: Men’s Ready-to-Wear Clothing-Namely, Work Shirts Made of Cotton Goods. FIRST USE: 19220104. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19220104
Serial Number 71167191
Filing Date July 21, 1922
Current Filing Basis 1A
Original Filing Basis 1A
Registration Number 0164833
Registration Date February 27, 1923
Attorney of Record ALAN S. LANGER
Type of Mark TRADEMARK
Affidavit Text SECTION 8(10-YR) 20030422.
Renewal 4TH RENEWAL 20030422
Live/Dead Indicator LIVE

Registration Statement:

1923 Big Mac Label Specimen:

Big Mac by JC Penney shirt available for sale at Vintrowear.com:

Red, white, and blue plaid Big Mac by JC Penney vintage mens western shirt.  Gripper pearl snaps.  Tag size: Tall LT.  Cotton poly blend.

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§ 42 Responses to What’s in a label? The Genealogy of Big Mac by JC Penney

  • C.A. Maloney says:

    Interesting article.
    I have owned many vintage Big Mac items and still have trouble dating many. Your image of a 1923 label, I believe, is incorrect by date. The ‘Sanforized’ process was not patented until 1930. As such, it is unlikely it would be on a label from 1923. From experience. label appears to be 40’s 0r 50’s.

    I keep images of all labels sold thru my shop. I would be happy to forward Big Mac labels if it would be of interest to you.

    Chris @ Style Stash

    • Thanks for your comment. I actually “borrowed” the Sanforized photo from the USPTO website. I just went and took a look at it again – the original trademark registration was 1923, but the label photo doesn’t actually have a date. Sure, I would love to see some of your Big Mac label photos! Best regards, Megan

  • gordon says:

    Sadly, today I went to place an order for another dozen Big Mac chambray shirts on jcp website yet there is no big Mac brand. I’ve worn two styles of Big Mac shirts since I was a kid. jcp now just Carries the same old tired brands as any other vendor. They’ve lost me as a long time customer with decades left of purchasing to go..

  • Lynn says:

    PLEASE bring back the Big Mac clothing. Need Big Mac denim shorts desperately!!

  • Carolyn says:

    My husband, age 80, has worn Big Mac work clothes since he was a child, and did his father before him. No more Big Mac at JC Penney (or anywhere else). The quality of all their clothing has gone downhill for years–most especially since outsourcing. We are no longer JC Penney customers–for anything.

  • Vye Bigham says:

    It is Big Mac pants my husband wants. Hard to believe Penney’s could make such a mistake as abandoning the Big Mac brand. I also am done with them.

  • Stephen ainsworth says:

    Have been wearing bigmac carpenter jeans for over 20 years. I buy multiple pairs a few times a year. Bye bye bigmac, bye bye jcp. I’m moving on also.

  • Jim says:

    Thirty years ago JCP had the best selection on the planet of both Big & Tall and Workwear. But the company has been on this downhill slide for years, and the current CEO has done nothing to reverse course. JCP has now lost me as a customer too. Fortunately I saw the handwritting on the wall and stocked up on Big Mac products.

  • Ron Atkins says:

    Thanks to the so called brains that are ruining the company I no longer shop at this place. They threw the working man under the bus.The new company logo stands for Just Company Pathetic.

  • gordon says:

    It’s winter so I wear the dwnim big mac like you’ve pictured near the top. I need big & tall, which they had. I’m searching for a good replacement, chambray in summer denim in winter. No luck so far. HOPEFULLY some company will contract with one of the foreign manufacturers jcp had used in later year. Btw, all long sleeve, all cotton. Texas weather and on a ranch.

  • Neil Lipes says:

    I have worn with pride most of Big Mac over the many years…………….built like the proverbial outhouse, which means it wears like iron!
    I look forward to many more purchases over the years.

  • Gilchrist says:

    And the new CEO wonders why JCP is losing customers and money. Loyalty is a two-way street. Everyday low prices for crap won’t hack it; everyday good value would.

  • Lisa Medlin says:

    I and my husband have worn Big Mac work clothing in the past for years, like their 100% Hickory Long Sleeve button up work shirt, and then their Big Mac 100% cotton cover alls. Please bring these back to JCPenney. I know hundreds of workers in the Building T
    rades went to work everyday, especially for Welding.
    Anyone know if “BigMac” is sold under a different brand name in a store or online? Please reply and let all of us know. Thanks.

  • Kenneth Cogdill says:

    Why would a company abandon a great selling,great quality,great value line of work wear? Why?Please tell me why! Bring back Big Mac !

  • Joberta says:

    I have worn Big Mac long-sleeved blue chambray work shirts for years and still have several in different stages of disrepair. My oldest still has a “Made in the USA” tag in it. I am so angry that JC Penney discontinued this line.

  • Marie says:

    Another dismayed soul searching for the great work shirts Big Mac always supplied! What is wrong with this picture, we ask ourselves?

  • About twenty years they replaced big mac clothes with city streets clothes for younger men. PENNYS NO LONGER CARRY THEM. Now pennys are going after the young men again.I guess they didn’t learn

  • Ned Null says:

    I am also a longtime wearer of Big Mac and am very disappointed to see them disappear, even online. I met two of J. C. Penney’s grandsons at summer camp 53 years ago and they were real good guys. J. C. Penney never piled up a huge personal fortune at the expense of his employees like the Waltons.

  • […] label on a Big Mac chore Jacket, courtesy of the Sanforized […]

  • Janice Davis says:

    Same with our family, you cannot find the quality of the Big Mac overalls – they were rugged and made for the American working man, too bad they could not be made in this country and too bad JCP had to drop the line – trying to keep up with today’s trend is not always the best thing, I believe the company has lost a lot of good customer.

  • Doreen Caffrey says:

    Sadly, I think, JC Penney has lost another customer in my husband and myself. I couldn’t find any Big Mac jeans.

    JCP doesn’t seem to care.

  • […] of my favorite and most reliable vintage brands to hunt for is Big Mac, a private label of workwear sold by JC Penney from 1922 to the 2000s. They made denim and outerwear as well, but for wearable value the flannel workshirts are the […]

  • Veronica L. Smith says:

    It is a shame that Big Mac work pants with side elastic for men cannot be found. Why do they always try to fix things that are not broke.

  • Wayne Montei says:

    I wore nothing but JCP “BIG MAC” flannel shirts for years and then found the need to write them a letter with regards to there availability. The response that I received was “No longer available – make another selection”. So I walked next door and have not been to JCP since. Apparently they do not need my business. If anyone has any vintage “BIG MAC” flannel shirts please contact me. Thank you.

  • june says:

    I proudly wear vintage Big Mac overalls that I bought on ebay. They are THE best bibs. And I like the union made in usa factor.

  • clayton says:

    I have worn big mac shirts for 45years. Guess the decisions these dummies made never done any work in their lives. Going to cancel all business with bc Penney. You can see why they are going down hill fast. Clay

  • Ed says:

    I also am sorry to find out JCP no longer has Big Mac shirts,. I have not been able to find anything comparable to them. i will have to take extra good care of the 3 I have

  • Ron Hennings says:

    I can not believe that they dropped the Big Mac Work wear line. I have not been able to find anything that compared with the quality they provided. It’s a shame that they lost me as a good customer as well.

  • Norma says:

    I have searched and ordered and returned because I can’t find anything that compares to the Big Mac Brand shirts. My husband is so unhappy with any other purchase I make. He has tried to adjust but to no avail. Please JCP start carrying them again.

  • Kenny says:

    So… at the beginning of this thread there was a label picture and confusion on the date, I was wondering if it ever got figured out? I have a pair of pants with that label I’m trying to date…

  • S Cary says:

    I agree, we will no longer shop at JC Penney’s since they don’t carry Big Mac. My father wore that product all his life, as well as my husband for the last 35 years since we’ve been married. Change is not always a good thing. It’s time big companies realized this.

  • Andy says:

    I too have buying the Big Mac work shirts for many years and have not yet found a replacement of equal quality. I did buy and compare the Red Kap ST62 to my old Big Mac shirt and found that the material was the same, the sizing the same (except for the two inch taper that is straight in the Red Kap), the tails are longer and the style is very close but the stitching and quality is not there. The price of $16 isn’t bad though. For those looking for Big Mac short sleeve work shirts in size MT there are some on Ebay at $19 each. To small for me.

  • RA says:

    I’ve been reduced to Dickeys — but the quality and fit of Big Mac is unsurpassed. Bad move for the store, but a tragic move for the working farmer.

  • Keith says:

    Try Key Industries for Chambray shirts. They aren’t Big Macs but they are pretty close to it. It is the best replacement I could find.

  • Roy Hamilton says:

    I too have worn the Big Mac dark blue western style work shirts since I was in high school (1950s). I have never worn any other shirts except for dress, and they were my uniform. I usually keep five or six in reserve and usually wear large tall. Just recently, I gained some weight because of some medicine I was taking, so decided to buy a couple of 2X tall till I get rid of the weight. Well I find now J C Penny no longer carries Big Mac at all. In the past I have usually bought 8 to 10 at a time once a year, and other than some bedding or towels, I seldom bought anything else. It looks like I will not be shopping at J C Pennys any longer.
    It just goes to show you what poor management can do for a solid company, I doubt if I will ever look back, so they have lost me forever.
    I bet old JC is rolling over in his grave right now!

  • Al says:

    I too was a little perturbed J C Penney dropped their line of work wear. The twill work pants and shirt have been my collection for four decades. They were strong, durable, neat and professional in appearance. It appears this chain of department store now appeals to the cutie guys in clothing selection.

  • Bonnie says:

    My husband has worn Big Mac pants for many years. He used to be a mechanic, now he deals with chemicals. They washed up so nicely and resisted battery acid and other chemicals. All other fabrics get holes in them right away. Just sorry I wasted so much time searching for them on the internet–now I know why I can’t find them 😦

  • TGA says:

    I, my wife, and my sons wore the 14-ounce, Big-Mac carpenter’s jeans and the heavyweight flannel shirts for decades. It had become a sort of ritual that we would go to the sore and stock-up regularly; then donate the old but still servicable clothing. I have found nothing even close in quality and comfort. No more Big-Mac = no more of my dollars. Bye-bye, JCP…

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