Chicago Dentist Saves Ford Motor Company

31 July 2013
Ernest Pfennig, ca 1923 (image courtesy of
Ernest Pfennig, ca 1923 (image courtesy of Ancestry)

While Dr. Ernest Pfennig is well known now for buying the first “Boss of the Road,” Ford’s original 1903 Model A, he must have been a pretty novel sight 110 years ago driving down the streets of Chicago in his red “Fordmobile.”

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Dr. Pfennig was an American dentist, so it’s not surprising that he could afford the luxury of an $850 Ford Model A. He was also a German immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1883. In an odd twist of fate, the same year Dr. Pfennig bought his Ford, a Chicago newspaper, the Inter Ocean, was reporting on how American dentists who traveled to Europe in the early 1900s were not only more skilled but also better liked than European dentists. American dentists abroad were “regarded as intimate friends” by royal dukes, princes, kings, emperors, and even czars.

Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), April 19, 1903 (image courtesy of
Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), April 19, 1903 (image courtesy of

Ironically, in the United States, dentists were feared and mistrusted by their patients. An April 1903 article in the Inter Ocean, titled “Trials of Dentists,” reported the effects of this uncomplimentary status of US dentists at home: “Each visit to his office is made with fear and trembling; he is dreaded even more than the careless chauffeur.” There’s no record on Dr. Pfennig’s chauffeuring skills—which might be a positive sign.

Dr. Pfennig’s purchase actually helped ensure Fords for years to come, as July sales of the Model A brought enough revenue into the cash-strapped, month-old company to keep the doors open. In less than a year after Dr. Pfennig bought his new car, Ford Co. had racked up over $98 thousand in Model A sales, the equivalent of over $2 million today. With so many sales, there may have been a few more dentists driving these new Model As. And without windshields, seatbelts, or many good roads, the Model A may have generated a little business for American dentists in return.

—Julie Ogborn


See what your great-grandparents were up to in 1903 on Ancestry.