1840 : Hazen Pingree Born, Future Detroit Mayor and Michigan Governor

August 30, 2018 all-day


On Aug. 30, 1840, Hazen Pingree was born in Maine. He would go on to become mayor of Detroit in 1889 and governor in 1897.

Pingree made a name for himself in the Civil War when he escaped the Confederate prison of Andersonville by assuming the identity of a prisoner who was to be exchanged.
After the war, on the advice of fellow soldiers, Pingree settled in Detroit, where he worked at a shoe factory. He learned the business quickly and by 1866 he and a partner started their own shoe company called Pingree and Smith. The company soon became one of the largest and best-known footwear manufacturers in the United States.
He was recruited to run for Mayor and his win was somewhat of a surprise.
Pingree made a name for himself as a progressive before the progressive party really took off.  Warning repeatedly against the dangers of government by corporations, he launched nationally visible crusades against Detroit’s streetcar, gas, electric, and telephone companies. He successfully forced rate reductions that won him widespread popularity. He won public approval for a citizen-owned electric light plant, and became a national spokesman for municipal ownership and close regulation of utilities and street railways. When the nationwide Panic of 1893 caused a severe depression, Pingree gained support by opening empty lots to garden farming – people called him “Potato Patch Pingree.”  He also put many Detroiters to work on public service projects.  He died in 1901 while returning from an African safari with then-Vice President Theodore Roosevelt and Pingree’s son.

The following day, the Detroit News eulogized Pingree saying, “Other men had opinions. He had convictions. … He was the type of man behind whom half of medieval Europe might have marched. … In another state of society, he might have founded a religion or an empire.” The Free Press recalled him in November 1941 saying, “If he had lived he might have been president for by (the time of his death) he was a national figure.” When his body arrived in Detroit, all business stopped for two days. His body laid in state for two days at Old City Hall, and the grand building was decked in mourning bunting and banners reading, “Ambitious,” “Brave,” “Energetic,” “Fearless,” “Staunch,” “True” and “Untiring.” The line to pay respects stretched for six blocks. He was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery.

Honoring Ping

“Within minutes after the first edition” of the newspapers reporting Pingree’s death “hit the street, readers were calling The News with offers of donations for a Pingree monument,” the News wrote. A committee was formed to explore how to honor Ping. Carl E. Schmidt, the group’s chairman, thought of erecting on Campus Martius or Cadillac Square an equestrian statue given the former mayor’s love for horses. Much of the money for the bronze monument came from the hungry he had fed with his potato patches. In all, more than 5,000 people donated to the fund, most averaging donations of 25 cents to a dollar. Sculptor Rudolph Schwarz was commissioned for the job, and the statue was unveiled May 30, 1904.

The plaque on the front of the monument reads: “The citizens of Michigan erect this monument to the cherished memory of Hazen S. Pingree. A gallant soldier, an enterprising and successful citizen, four times elected mayor of Detroit, twice governor of Michigan. He was the first to warn the people of the great danger threatened by powerful private corporations. And the first to awake to the great inequalities in taxation and to initiate steps for reform. The idol of the people.

A survey of scholars in 1999 ranked Pingree as the fourth best mayor in all of American history.

Sources :

Michigan Every Day

Hazen Pingree wikipedia entry

Hazen Pingree, Detroit’s superstar mayor of the 1890s“, Detroit News.

Dan Austin, “Meet the 5 best mayors in Detroit history“, Detroit Free Press, August 28, 2014; updated March 13, 2015.   Hazen Pingree ranks #1 among the best mayors.

Melvin G. Holli (1999). The American Mayor: The Best & the Worst Big-City Leaders. Penn State University Press.

Dan Austin, “Hazen S. Pingree Monument“, HistoricDetroit.org

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