Back to top

Pan Motor Company

Creator: 
Contributor: 
Stearns History Museum
  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Comment
  • Print
Samuel C. and Annie Pandolfo, in Pan Car, visiting St. Cloud, March 1956

Outdoor shot of a visiting Mr. (sitting behind the steering wheel) and Mrs. (standing next to him) Pandolfo, with 1919 Pan Car, in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

In 1918, the first Pan Automobile rolled off the assembly line in St. Cloud, Minnesota. It was the beginning of the short and controversial existence of the Pan Motor Company. By the end of 1919, its president Samuel (Sam) Connor Pandolfo (1874-1960) was fined $4,000 and sentenced to ten years in prison for mail fraud. Car production had stopped and the St. Cloud community lost its bid to become a premier auto-manufacturing city.

Sam Pandolfo was first a teacher, then an insurance salesman, and finally an automobile entrepreneur. Pandolfo's extensive travels as an insurance salesman inspired him to dream up a new car design, one that suited a traveler. His new automobile would have fold-down seats for sleeping, a compartment for tools and extra gasoline, clearance for bumpy country roads, and a place for food and drink. It was a tall order but one that Pandolfo was sure he could meet.

Beginning in 1916, Pandolfo took to the road to sell stock for his car company. From New Mexico to Chicago, the $10 stocks sold easily. There were 9,000 stockholders by 1917. In March of 1917, St. Cloud became the official site for the new Pan Motor Company. The site was chosen because of its proximity to Duluth's harbors and iron ore mines. St. Cloud had two major rail lines and two power dams on its eastern border, the Mississippi River.

On the Fourth of July of 1917, Sam Pandolfo threw the picnic of all picnics. With an immense crowd in attendance, the Pan Automobile prototype premiered; 15,434 pounds of beef and 8,000 loaves of bread were not enough to feed everyone. There were, however, stocks sold to satisfy Pandolfo.

Along with the largest drop forge plant west of Chicago, offices, and massive production buildings, the company built a town called Pan-Town on the Mississippi to house its workers. There were fifty-eight homes, a fire department, and hotel. The company continued to raise capital by selling stock to pay for construction of these facilities. It also spent an excessive amount on postage—$30,000 to 40,000 a year—to promote and sell stock.

Only 735 cars were produced and stockholders were not getting any dividends. The Associated Advertising Clubs of Minneapolis (forerunner of the Better Business Bureau) lodged a complaint against the Pan Motor Company. They claimed Pandolfo spent more money on promotion than his Minnesota charter permitted. Although the suit was dismissed the claim continued to attract attention.

On February 1, 1919, a Chicago Federal Grand Jury indicted Sam Pandolfo and all of the company's officers on seven counts of mail fraud and one count of attempted mail fraud. The judge in the case, Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1920 baseball commissioner during the Black Sox baseball scandal), was not sympathetic. The counts against the officers of the company were dropped but Pandolfo was convicted and served three years in Leavenworth Prison. The Pan Motor Company struggled as it produced car parts for other companies and metal products under their own name until finally closing in 1922.

The homes built by the Pan Motor Company for its employees and the Drop Forge Plant (now Brock White Company) still exist as of 2011. Pandolfo's office building and sheet metal works are on the National Register of Historic Places. Sam Pandolfo died in Alaska in 1960. He was reburied in 2011 in St. Cloud, the community that put its faith and hopes in his dream of the perfect automobile.

  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Comment
  • Print
© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Dominik, John J. The Legend of Sam Pandolfo: Minnesota's Pan Motor Company and Its Legacy. St. Cloud, MN: Park Press Quality Printing, Inc., 2003.

———. "Sam Pandolfo: Minnesota's Almost Auto Magnate," Minnesota History 48, no. 4 (Winter 1982): 138–152.
http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/48/v48i04p138-152.pdf

———. Wizard of Progress. St. Cloud, MN: Stearns County Historical Society, 1992.

Nelson, Knute. "The Pan Letters," Crossings 18, no. 5 (April/May 1992): 3.

Pan Motor Company Subject File
Stearns History Museum, St. Cloud, Minnesota
Description: Advertisments, judicial opinions, photographs, newspaper clippings.

Pandolfo, Samuel Connor. "Brief History and Background of S.C. Pandolfo." Transcription by John V. McMillin II, Iowa City, Iowa, 1957.

Samuel Pandolfo Biographical File
Stearns History Museum, St. Cloud, Minnesota
Description: Newspaper clippings, maps, correspondence, reports, pamphlets, statistics, census records, photographs.

Worcester, Michael. "Samuel Pandolfo and the Great Barbecue," Crossings 17, no. 5 (October/November 1991): 2–4.

———. "The Trial of Sam Pandolfo," Crossings 17, no. 5 (October/November 1991): 5–6.

Related Images

Samuel C. and Annie Pandolfo, in Pan Car, visiting St. Cloud, March 1956
Samuel C. and Annie Pandolfo, in Pan Car, visiting St. Cloud, March 1956
Samuel C. Pandolfo, c.1917
Samuel C. Pandolfo, c.1917
Pan Motor Company barbeque, St. Cloud, July 4, 1917
Pan Motor Company barbeque, St. Cloud, July 4, 1917
Pan Car, Pan Motor Company, St. Cloud, 1918
Pan Car, Pan Motor Company, St. Cloud, 1918
Pantown, St. Cloud
Pantown, St. Cloud
Fire Department, No. 3 Station, Pantown, St. Cloud, c.1919
Fire Department, No. 3 Station, Pantown, St. Cloud, c.1919

Turning Point

On February 1, 1919, Samuel Pandolfo is indicted by a Federal Grand Jury for mail fraud. This is the beginning of the end of St. Cloud's run as an automobile manufacturing center.

Chronology

1916
Sam Pandolfo begins selling stock in his proposed automobile company throughout the Midwest.
1917
St. Cloud is designated as the site for Pandolfo's new car company, and the first Pan Automobile is introduced to the public on July 4.
1918
The Pan Automobile takes a test drive to Pikes Peak in Colorado.
1919
Sam Pandolfo is indicted by a Federal Grand Jury.
1923
Sam Pandolfo exhausts his appeals and is sent to Leavenworth Prison for three years.
1926
Marching bands and cheering crowds greet Pandolfo when he returns to St. Cloud to say goodbye.








  

Comments

I have recently found some stock certificates from the Pan Motor Company that belonged to my great grandfather dated Jan.3,1918 and june 4,1919. I am looking for more imformation regarding there history.

For more information, I recommend contacting the Stearns History Museum, which is the historical society for Stearns County, where the Pan Motor Company was based. Go to their website at www.stearns-museum.org for contact information.