Harry E. Pence believed in Buicks

Contact this contributing writer at rdyoakam58@yahoo.com.

Sometimes people born and raised in Warren County move to other states and make outstanding contributions in their new community. Harry E. Pence was such a man.

The family name was originally Bentz. Long ago some of his ancestors moved from Bavaria, Germany, to England and changed the name to Pentz. It later was altered again and became Pence. Some members of the Pence family moved from England to Pennsylvania. About 1818 Jacob and Elizabeth Pence and their two sons moved to Warren County from Pennsylvania. The original homestead was two miles northeast of Genntown.

Fifty years later Harry E. Pence was born, on Oct. 7, 1868, to parents Charles and Ruth Ann Pence. His birth took place near Springboro, where his father was a well-to-do farmer.

Pence attended public school and afterward received business college training.

When Pence was 18, he went to Minneapolis at the invitation of his uncle, a prominent businessman in railroad, mining, banking and land markets. His uncle decided to tour oversea for his health and asked Pence to accompany him. They traveled for five years throughout Europe and the Orient.

When the men returned to Minneapolis, Pence bought six steamboats and entered into the business of moving freight and passengers on the Mississippi River. After two years, he found the business was not as profitable as he had hoped. He sold out and returned to Minneapolis. There he became a grain commission dealer with the Board of Trade.

In 1898 Pence married Dorothy Draper. They had three children.

Pence became interested in automobiles around 1903 and toured cities where they were being manufactured. He decided the vehicles were fast becoming necessities. After consideration, he chose the Cadillac as the best brand. Pence then opened a Cadillac car dealership. It was only the second auto franchise in Minneapolis.

After two years, Pence decided automobiles would have more speed and power if they had two-cylinder engines. Cadillac would not change from making one-cylinder engines, but Buick agreed to do so. Pence then began to sell Buicks.

In 1909 he moved his company into a building he had built on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. The structure was eight stories tall and contained sales showrooms, auto repair and service, storage for parts, and offices. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places. By 1915 Pence was selling 3,000 to 4,000 automobiles and was said to have the largest auto business in the world. At one point he sold 29 percent of all Buicks manufactured.

Pence died on March 29, 1933, and was buried in the Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.

About the Author