What Is the Oldest Dealership in America?

When it comes to car dealerships, owners seem to come and go over time. However, the oldest dealership in America has been able to stay in the hands of the same family for over a century. This historic auto dealership finds its roots in St. Cloud, Minnesota. It did not even start out selling automobiles. So, what is the oldest car dealership in America and its fascinating history? 

Tenvoorde Ford outlasts all the competition 

Car dealership lot with a sign that says "Open. Slaes is Open by appointment only."
Car dealership lot | Getty Images

The Tenvoorde Ford dealership has found a way to outlast all of its competition over the last century. Ford Motor Co was founded by Henry Ford and officially incorporated in June 1903. However, even before Ford was officially incorporated, they began signing franchise agreements with automobile dealers across the United States. The second Ford franchise agreement ever signed was by Steve Tenvoorde of St. Cloud, Minnesota, in March 1903. 

According to Tenvoorde Ford, Steve Tenvoorde was the son of John W. Tenvoorde, one of the founders of St. Cloud, Minnesota. Steve Tenvoorde engaged in several occupations over the years but had a keen interest in bicycles. This interest led Tenvoorde to open a bicycle shop in St. Cloud. In 1901, Mr. Tenvoorde began selling cars out of his bicycle shop in downtown St. Cloud, and by March 1903, he had signed up to be the second Ford franchise dealer in the United States.       

Becoming the oldest dealership in the United States 

As of 2021, Tenvoorde Ford, out of St.Cloud, Minnesota, is still in business and the hands of the Tenvoorde family. After outlasting all of its original competition, Tenvoorde is officially the oldest dealership in the United States. According to Automotive News, this means that the oldest American car dealership is a Ford franchise that is actually older than Ford Motor Co. itself. 

Interestingly, the oldest car dealership in the United States actually started as a bicycle shop thanks to the foundations of Steve Tenvoorde. Mr. Tenvoorde was definitely a forward-thinking man, as NPR reports that Steve Tenvoorde was actually the first automobile dealer to St. Cloud in 1899. Jack Tenvoorde, a grandson of Steve Tenvoorde, recalls his grandfather telling him, “It was the first time people had seen a horseless carriage.”

Five generations later and the dealership is still going strong  

When Steve Tenvoorde originally started selling automobiles out of his bicycle shop in St. Cloud, Minnesota, he signed up as a dealer for Ford, Oldsmobile, Saxon, Buick, Chandler, Oakland, and several others. If it had anything to do with early automobiles, Mr. Tenvoorde was all about it.

Steve Tenvoorde eventually dropped all other lines and entirely concentrated on Ford after a few years in business. Steve Tenvoorde’s decision to focus on selling Ford turned out to be a great decision for future generations of the Tenvoorde family who are still running the original Tenvoorde Ford dealership in St. Cloud, Minnesota, to this day. 

Steve Tenvoorde’s forward-thinking and business savvy got his bicycle shop turned into a car dealership and is still going strong five generations down the line. Not only are Steve Tenvoorde’s descendants reaping the benefits of his initial efforts, but they are also the proud owners of the oldest Ford dealership and the oldest car dealership in the entire United States. With a great history and legacy, Tenvoorde Ford remains the oldest dealership in America 118 years after its founding. 

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