This Date In Central Minnesota History – March 21st, 1903
ST. CLOUD — March 21st, 1903 – Stephen Tenvoorde signed an agreement making his dealership the second Ford dealership in the country. Today it is the oldest Ford dealership in the world.
Stephen was a businessman from a young age, opening the city’s first bicycle store downtown St. Cloud, which was named Bicycle Headquarters in 1895. As his business grew, so did his ideas. A mere four years later, in 1899, he brought the first automobile to St. Cloud. With the assistance of Harry Dyer, Stephen assembled the car just in from Milwaukee outside his bicycle shop and, with spectators gathered, the finished product came about. Later that year Stephen furthered his interest in automobiles and began selling them from his shop. On March 21, 1903, Stephen Tenvoorde signed an agreement with Ford, making his the 2nd Ford dealership in the country.
The business venture was not an easy one, as Stephen soon discovered. In fact, within the first year of business he sold only one car. As he kept busy through other endeavors, he landed on an invention that gained him notoriety, the Tenvoorde Jack. This garage jack became a popular item used around the country, including the Ford assembly plants. The dolly and jack was used to lift and maneuver cars around to work on. As the significance of the automobile’s future was soon realized, he opened his first sales outlet in downtown St. Cloud in 1910. From just 5 automobiles in 1901 to more than 400 in 1915, Tenvoorde expanded his business by adding a two story structure onto the existing building, which included a showroom, service area, and body repair shop.
It wasn’t until 1921 that Stephen’s son, Cy, became part of the company as a bookkeeper. He would go on to lead the dealership through some of the most difficult times economically, during the Great Depression and World War II. As the hardship of selling weighed heavily on Cy, he shifted the focus from new vehicles to the upkeep of used vehicles. As their customer service and success of repair service received recognition, the decision was made to open a new facility on October 15, 1934, on the corner of St. Germain and Fourth Avenue. In addition to servicing all owners of all makes of cars, contacts with potential car purchasers were quickly being multiplied. Against all odds, their business continued to thrive during the war years, which opened the door to expansion in the 1950s.
Cy continued to pass down the tradition to his sons, Jack, Paul and David; all of which have started at the bottom and worked their way to the top, possessing strong work ethic and value. Throughout the many generations of Tenvoorde Ford, they have continued to make strides of success and expansion accompanied by their noted customer service. Today they are the oldest Ford dealership in the world. They were, and still remain to be, an anticipated dealership with an advancing future.
Thanks to Alison Park and the Stearns History Museum for their help with this story in our series, “This Date In Central Minnesota History”.