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.
For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.