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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Harry E. Pence: Local Automotive Pioneer

Dallas Bogan on 29 July 2004
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page 389
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Some time ago the writer portrayed in this column (April 9, 1995), Lincoln Beachy, an aviation pioneer from Lebanon, and his part in the advancement of the flying machine. This week we shall recount the adventures of an automobile pioneer from Springboro.
The Pence family has long been known as one of the first settlers in the county, with descendants by the multitude. At this time, I shall now attempt to write a segment on the life of Harry E. Pence, automotive pioneer.
Harry Pence was born in Springboro, Ohio, the son of Charles N. Pence, a prosperous farmer. At the age of 18, at the invitation of his uncle, John Wesley Pence, he traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota, home of the latter.
John Wesley was prominently identified with the early growth of Minneapolis, his operations including railroad and mining corporations, along with banking and real estate enterprises. He became so engrossed in his businesses that his health began to fail. He decided that a trip abroad would result in a cure and he invited Harry to accompany him. They spent five years on a leisurely trip together and made a study of Europe and the Orient.
Returning to Minneapolis, young Harry made a decision to go into business. He foresaw a future in the transportation of commodities between the North and the South on the Mississippi River. With capital behind him, he purchased six rather large steamboats for both freight and passenger service, which he operated between St. Louis and New Orleans during the winter months. He also ran a packet line between Taylor's Falls and Stillwater during the summer months. Two years involvement in this venture demonstrated to him that returns were too small for larger investments. He sold out and returned to Minneapolis where he became a member of the Board of Trade as a grain commissioner.
Just about the turn of the Twentieth Century, automobiles were beginning to appear. They were at first looked upon as mere experiments, such as was the first flying machine.
In June 1902, Pence attended an automobile race that was run from Minneapolis to Lake Minneapolis and back. Apparently this created a stir in him, and consequently he began to look upon this as a possible new venture. He had never even owned an automobile when in 1903 he decided to go into the business of dealing in the horseless carriage. He first made a tour of the cities in which they were being manufactured. He carefully made a study of their construction and decided on the Cadillac made at Detroit. He thought this machine was best adapted for good service and durability.
That year he opened up the second dealership in the city of Minneapolis, handling several makes of automobiles. The first year he sold 83 motorcars. His business so expanded that afterward he had to move into a larger building into which he made an investment of $40,000. The public considered this building as a reckless venture at the time, and that it could later be made into a store or restaurant. They were proved wrong.
In 1905, Pence thought the motorcar should have a two-cylinder engine. He discussed the idea with the Cadillac people and they declined the idea. The Cadillac Company's faith in the one-cylinder engine was one of conjecture for the future. Not to be defeated in his idea of a larger engine, he began to look for a manufacturer that would conform to his idea. He succeeded in bringing the makers of the Buick machine, who had just started out in an insignificant way in Jackson, Michigan, around to his idea.
The Buick Company agreed that a larger engine would be feasible and began building them on an extensive scale. Pence ultimately took up this new dealership and sales skyrocketed. His company sold at this time 29 percent of all Buicks that were manufactured. (The Cadillac Company started the sale of two-cylinder automobiles within two years.) Pence was possibly the first to recognize the fact that an increase in cylinder capacity meant more power and more speed.
Harry Pence popularized the automobile through the introduction of its use for business purposes, a service that cannot be measured. With his endless energy, and his capacity for dealing with large projects, he started a trend that most certainly advanced the automobile industry to what it is today.
Again, a citizen of the County of Warren contributed much toward the evolving of the greatest country on Earth.

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This page created 29 July 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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