Foremost farms traces its name to J.C. Penney

Pamela J. Karg
Field Editor

ike well-pedigreed cattle, Foremost Farms USA cooperative, can trace its lineage back to the birth of a Guernsey bull that eventually found its way into the hands of one of America's best-known businessmen: James Cash Penney Jr, founder of J.C. Penny Co. department stores. The Baraboo, Wis., dairy cooperative takes its name from the Guernsey bull named Langwater Foremost, owned by Penney. How fate brought a dairy cooperative, a Guernsey bull and a man who lived by the golden rule together is a tall tale of twists. After his April 1915 birth, Foremost sired several animals that "became remarkable examples of type and milk inheritance through line-breeding," according to historical records kept at the Dallas, Texas, headquarters of J.C. Penney. In fact, the bull was voted the fourth most influential in his breed, and he sired 68 registered daughters and 87 registered sons. Meanwhile, Penney was building a chain of retail stores.

J.C. Penney would probably like the fact that his beloved Foremost bull is the namesake of a dairy cooperative, an organization that shares its profits with its owners, just as Penney did.

Penney opens Golden Rule Store

Penney was born. in Hamilton, Mo., in 1875. He maintained that his career in business began at the age of eight, when he was told by his father that he was o enough to assume responsibility for paying for his clothes. Penney ran errands and worked in the fields to earn the money to buy the pair of shoes he needed. After apprenticing with a local storekeeper, Penney moved to Denver and worked briefly as a store clerk before opening a butcher shop in Longmont. After it failed - largely due to the loss of the local hotel's business when he refused the cook's demand of a payoff in the form of whiskey - Penney accepted a job with the Colorado firm of Johnson and Callahan, operators of drygoods stores in small towns throughout the region. In 1900, Penney was sent to Evanston, Wyo., to manage the firm's branch mercantile store. Johnson and Callahan recognized Penney's ability and helped him open his own store in Kemmerer, Wyo. "When the sun rose over Kemmerer, Wyo., April 14, 1902, it gilded a sign reading, Golden Rule Store, and I was in business as a full partner," Penney wrote. "In setting up a business under the name and meaning of Golden Rule, I was publicly binding myself, in my business relations, to a principle which had been a real intimate part of my family upbringing. To me, the sign on the store was much more than a trade' name. We took our slogan 'Golden Rule Store' with strict literalness. Our idea was to make money and business through serving the community with fair dealing and honest value, and did business cash-and-carry." Two revolutionary ideas - cash only and do unto others as you would have them do unto you - were the basis for Penney's new business venture. In fact, he was a lifelong advocate of what he referred to as "Christian principles" in business, which included preparation, hard work and, above all, the Golden Rule. Penney also frowned on smoking and drinking by his employees. By 1914, there were 71 stores. In 1917 when he accepted the position o chairman, there were 197 stores. In an effort to make it easier for the company to obtain the financial credit essential to any successful retail operation, the organization became a corporation. Shares were listed on the New York Stock Exchange in October 1929, just a few days before Black Thursday. While the crash caused sales to shrink, the number of stores continued to grow because of their affordable merchandise.

Creating a Sense of Heritage

As his personal fortune grew, Penney began donating significant amounts of money to his favorite charities, which included the Christian Herald and a home for retired clergymen. He borrowed against his store stock and accumulated in excess of $7 million in personal debts. At the same time, this son of a Missouri farmer and preacher made two observations. First, he was concerned about "the low quality of beef and dairy animals found on a large percentage of farms." Second, Penney felt the great U.S. herds were being broken up after the owner died, contrary to what he saw in England and Scotland, where herds remained in families for generations. Penney purchased Emmadine Farm at Hopewell Junction, N.Y. On the advice of leading Guernsey breeders, Penney also bought Langwater Foremost for the then record price of $20,000. He then endowed the herd because he decided that "a lifetime was too short a period to develop a great herd of cattle." With creameries closing during the Great Depression, Missouri-born businessman J. C. Penney bought a Jacksonville, Fla., creamery and named it after his prized Guernsey bull Foremost which grew into the longest milk route in the world and is now the choice name used by a Midwestern-based farmer cooperative. In 1952, the herd was moved to the College of Agriculture, University of Missouri-Columbia. There are still a few Guernsey cows in the herd, though most of the cows are now Holsteins. Each Guernsey, however, can trace her lineage back to Langwater Foremost. With creameries closing during the Great Depression and with extensive holdings in Florida, including City National Bank, Penney bought a Jacksonville creamery. He named it Foremost Dairies after his prized bull. It originally operated in 12 southern communities and its net sales totaled $1 million the first year. By 1932, Penney had lost his personal fortune and was subject to unfounded charges that he had profited at the expense of fellow shareholders in the collapse of the Florida bank in which, he was a major investor. After a brief stay in a sanitarium, Penney returned to the post of chairman of the company and rebuilt his fortune. He resigned as chairman in 1958, and died in New York City in 1971 at age 95.

With creameries closing during the Great Depression, Missouri-born businessman J.C. Penney bought a Jacksonville, Fla., creamery and named it after his prized Guernsey bull - Foremost - which grew into the longest milk route in the world and is now the choice name used by a Midwestern-based farmer cooperative.

World's longest milk route

Between 1932 and 1944, Foremost Dairies doubled the communities served and increased sales 10-fold. The company's major growth started in 1945 with the acquisition of Southwest Dairy Products Co. "It's better than good, it's Foremost" became a household slogan. During World War 11, the U.S. military sparked Foremost's international growth and the creamery opened additional plants nationwide. Foremost Dairies became known as "the longest milk route in the world." Foremost Dairies was the third largest dairy company in the world by 195 1. With the 1954 acquisition of Golden State Co. the largest dairy business in California - Foremost had operations in 23 states across the South and North as well as in Japan, the Philippines, Guam and Hawaii. Foremost established its headquarters in San Francisco, and it still lived by the golden rule established by Penney. Wherever it set up a facility, the organization wanted to teach local people how to operate it and then share in its success. The business continued to grow. In 1956, it made the key acquisition of Western Condensing Co. In Appleton, Wis., that would eventually lead the Foremost name to Upper Midwest dairy producers. But troubled times hit in 1962, when the Federal Trade Commission said that Foremost's "dominant presence" could affect competition. The company was ordered to release ownership of its 10 most recent acquisitions. Foremost also sold all of its milk and ice cream plants east of the Mississippi River. In 1967, Foremost and McKesson merged. At the time, Foremost- McKesson included chemical, liquor and pharmaceutical companies as well as Foremost Foods Co. It also included the Wisconsin whey processing plants formerly operated under Western Condensing.

Langwater Foremost was voted the fourth most influential bull of the Guernsey breed.

Wisconsin Dairies Acquires Foremost

The dairy industry was changing, and Wisconsin Dairies Cooperative, Baraboo, Wis., realized that there were ways to capture more money for its members by further processing of whey. After all, it took 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese, leaving nine pounds of whey that was packed with proteins, lactose (milk sugar), other nutrients and trace minerals. In 1984, the cooperative acquired the whey operations, research library, patents and rights to the Foremost name in the United States and Canada from McKesson. In addition to marketing whey-based products through its Foremost Ingredient Group division, the cooperative licensed the Foremost name for use by companies in the western United States, Hawaii, Alaska and Mexico. In January 1995, the member-owners of Wisconsin Dairies and Golden Guernsey Dairy Cooperative consolidated their operations. At the time, the consolidation of Wisconsin Dairies and Golden Guernsey into Foremost Farms USA was unique in the dairy industry. Both cooperatives were financially sound, with effective member-owner programs. They had efficient operations and marketing programs, along with complementary product lines and service and procurement areas. Foremost Farms acquired the Morning Glory Farms Region of Associated Milk Producers, Inc. in December 1995. Today, Foremost Farms ranks among the top five largest U.S. dairy cooperatives for milk volume. As a cooperative, it's only fitting that Penney is part of the history. When he opened stores, created his Guernsey legacy or developed a superb purebred Aberdeen Angus herd, Penney always shared his profits with his business partners. And the profits from Foremost Farms USA go back to the business partners some 7,000 dairy farmers in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.