I had a little time to kill before I would see my ship, so I decided to do a brief wandering around Detroit. Well at least the area around Comerica Park and Campus Martius. This is a fairly nice area of Detroit.
He was born in Denmark, Maine in 1840. At the age of 14, he moved to Saco, Maine where he worked in a cotton factory. Two years later, he would move to Hopkinton, MA where he worked in shoe factory.
In 1862, he enlisted in the Union Army and served in 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery Regiment. He fought in the Northern Virginia Campaign and the Second Battle of Bull Run. In 1864, his regiment was ordered to defend Washington D.C. This lasted until May 15, 1864 when his unit fought in the battles near Fredericksburg. Later in May, his unit was captured by the Confederates. He escaped in November of 1864. His regiment was present at the surrender at Appomattox. It was mustered out in August of 1865.
Later in the year, he moved to Detroit where he worked as cobbler for the H.P. Baldwin Shoe Company. In 1866, he was able to buy the company and renamed it the Pingree and Smith Company. He retired from the company in 1883 and his son took over. By 1886, it was the second largest shoe company in the United States. In 1887, the factory caught fire but it was able to be recovered.
He was never a politician until he ran for the Mayor of Detroit in 1889 as a citizen-reformer. His platform was to expose and end corruption in the city's paving contracts, sewer contracts and school boards. It's funny how some things never seem to change. He then turned to fighting privately owned utility monopolies by forming municipally owned utility companies. His biggest struggle was against the Streetcar Company but was barred from forming a municipally owned company by the State's Constitution.
During the Depression of 1893, he put people back to work by building parks, new schools and public baths. He also eased famine by allowing people to grow potatoes on vacant lands within the city. He was also an advocate of a the single tax plan. He was re-elected in 1891, 1893 and 1895.
In 1897, he set his sites on Lansing and became Michigan's 24th Governor. During his four years in office, he promoted the regulation of railroad rates, equal taxation and municipal ownership of public untilies. He also supported many other progressive causes but was blocked by Democrats and business-oriented Republicans. He expressed the fear of corporate power by saying, "I do not condemn corporations nad rich men, but I would keep them within their proper spheres. It is not safe to entrust the government of the country to the influence of Wall Street." Sadly, these words ring true these days.
In 1901, he died in London after being struck with peritonitis. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetary in Detroit. The above statue was made by Rudolph Schwarz. I don't normally delve into politics on this blog but it's amazing how we keep having to fight the same fights after all of these years. We really could use a man like Pingree again.