Swindler or Saint: Sam Pandolfo and the Pan Tank Tread Tractor

Sam Pandolfo and his Pan Tank Tread Tractor put St. Cloud, Minn., on the map.


| April 2014



A Pan automobile

A Pan automobile on display at the big Fourth of July picnic in St. Cloud, Minn.

Photo courtesy Sam Moore

Pan was a Greek god with horns, a hairy body, and the hindquarters and legs of a goat. The god of shepherds and flocks, Pan spent his time playing on a set of pipes and chasing beautiful nymphs, most of whom spurned his advances, usually with disastrous results to themselves.

In 1917, Sam Pandolfo may not have been chasing nymphs but he was definitely out to seduce the city of St. Cloud, Minn., with his grandiose plans for a Pan automobile, truck and tractor.

Samuel Conner Pandolfo was born in 1874 on his father’s cotton farm in Mississippi. He taught school and then became a highly successful insurance salesman in New Mexico and Texas. By 1916, Pandolfo had some 500 agents working for him and had sold millions of dollars’ worth of insurance, becoming wealthy in the process. He sold his insurance business in 1916 and cast about for something else to do.      

Pandolfo bought his first car in 1909 and from then on used an automobile to conduct his insurance business. Because there were then few gasoline stations, restaurants or hotels in Texas and New Mexico, he often had to ship gas and oil ahead by train; finding a place to eat and sleep was a problem. This led him to invent an auxiliary automobile tank with separate compartments for extra fuel, oil and water, as well as an insulated compartment to carry food and beverages.

Man with a vision

By 1916, when Pandolfo sold his insurance business, the automobile was no longer just a rich man’s toy and many automakers were making large profits. Pandolfo decided to get into the automobile business by building a car he called the Pan. His plans included a Pan truck and a Pan tractor as well.

Super salesman Pandolfo, along with a large number of assistants, began selling stock in the new Pan Motor Co., which was incorporated early in 1917 with offices in Chicago.