The birth of the automobile industry reminds me of other business booms.
Somebody gets a great idea, or has some success, and suddenly everybody jumps on the bandwagon, hoping to cash in before another fad takes its place. History, and lots of barns you see on American Picker, is/are littered with the carcasses of the cars that didn't make it. The Pan Car falls into this category.
The Pan Car concept was conceived by a fellow named Samuel Connor Pandolfo. As a traveling salesman, Pandolfo felt his ideas for making a travel-friendly vehicle would be a success. The Mississippi-born Pandolfo planned to locate his manufacturing plant in St. Cloud, Minnesota, northwest of the Twin Cities. St. Cloud had easy access to two things a car factory needed: plenty of iron ore to build them with (they don't call that area the Iron Range for nothing); and a way to ship them to market (via rail to the shipping hub at Duluth).
Pandolfo did a 1917 version of Kickstarter and hit the road selling inexpensive shares of stock to fund his dream. He threw the mother of all barbecues to celebrate the prototype - and sell stock. He tried marketing by mail - to sell stock. He sold a lot of stock (around $10 million by some estimates), but car factories cost a bundle to build and run. Between car sales and stock sales, he just wasn't able to cover his expenses. Some considered his business plan something of a swindle. (I feel the pain. Ask me about my shares of Excelsior Henderson motorcycle stock.) Some say Pandolfo was a victim of auto and other big business conspiracies to block his success. He was convicted of mail fraud and did some time.
Fewer than 1000 Pan Cars were sold before the factory was forced to shut down. Today there are only about seven Pan Cars known to exist. A dedicated group of Pan Car enthusiasts scours the nearby countryside in search of overlooked Pan Cars, but usually must be satisfied with bits and pieces which they have painstakingly rebuilt over the years. The Pan Car price started at $1,000. Today, if you could find one, depending on the condition it could be worth five figures. How much, I don't know. I'm in the process of reaching out to some folks who can give me a number. In the meantime, I'll continue to ponder on this flash in the Pan.
This post originally appeared in the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge