Strain selection and strain improvement are the first, and arguably most important, steps in the industrial production of biological compounds by microorganisms. While traditional methods of mutagenesis and selection have been effective in improving production of compounds at a commercial scale, the genetic changes underpinning the altered phenotypes have remained largely unclear. We utilized high-throughput Illumina short read sequencing of a wild Penicillium chrysogenum strain in order to make whole genome comparisons to a sequenced improved strain (WIS 54-1255). We developed an assembly-free method of identifying chromosomal rearrangements and validated the in silico predictions with a PCR-based assay and Sanger sequencing. Despite many rounds of mutagen treatment and artificial selection, WIS 54-1255 differs from its wild progenitor at only one of the identified rearrangements. We suggest that natural variants predisposed for high penicillin production were instrumental in the success of WIS 54-1255 as an industrial strain. In addition to finding a previously published inversion in the penicillin biosynthesis cluster, we located several genes related to penicillin production associated with these rearrangements. By comparing the configuration of rearrangement events among several historically important strains known to be high penicillin producers to a collection of recently isolated wild strains, we suggest that wild strains with rearrangements similar to those in known high penicillin producers may be viable candidates for further improvement efforts.