Dakota Datebook

Bertin Gamble

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

 

It was this date in 1927 that up-and-coming businessman Bertin Clyde Gamble married Gladys Pearson. While certainly a joyous occasion, the Gambles couldn’t afford to take a leisurely honeymoon; they and their business partner, Phil Skogmo, had an empire to build.

The story begins in the sleepy town of Arthur, North Dakota, when Bertin Gamble, still a youngster, moved there from Chicago. He made quick friends with Phil Skogmo. The two grew up together and eventually travelled to Minneapolis to find employment. Neither enjoyed working for others and they hoped to form their own business. Opportunity knocked in 1920, and the two men answered; buying the Hudson-Essex auto dealership in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The company flourished through the innovative use of “monthly financing,” a novel concept at the time.

With business booming, Gamble and Skogmo’s dealership was netting one million dollars in annual sales by 1925. But it was then that Gamble made a startling discovery. The auto-parts division represented over half the dealership’s net profits. Realizing opportunity was once again knocking at their door, they opened an auto parts store in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Its success soon led to more stores, and within four years there were 55 in five states.

Then the Great Depression hit. Businesses throughout the country closed shop, while those more fortunate hunkered down in hopes of riding out the financial storm. However, Gamble and Skogmo saw opportunity within the economic chaos and expanded their company. By 1939, Gamble-Skogmo had 1,700 stores and were selling far more than radiators and fan belts. The two men had diversified into household appliances, paints, gardening and were netting annual profits of 1.4 million dollars.

Gamble-Skogmo continued to grow and diversify, even through the Second World War. By the 1970s the company’s sales hit two billion, and Gamble-Skogmo was one of the largest retail organizations in the nation with 4,200 merchandising outlets in 38 states and Canada.

Yet even through all of their success, Bertin Gamble and Phil Skogmo did not forget their roots; both donated large amounts back to their home communities, with funds helping support UND, medical research and education. Given their own humble beginnings, both entrepreneurs worked to ensure that promising individuals with a disadvantaged background were given the financial assistance they needed to succeed. In 1972 Bertin Gamble was recognized for his efforts with the Theodore Roosevelt Roughrider Award, the highest honor given by the state of North Dakota. Yet the legacy of Gamble and Skogmo is much more than a plaque or a portrait in the Capitol building, it is their life’s testament, the proof of what the hard work and determination of those even from the most rural of areas can achieve.

Dakota Datebook written by Lane Sunwall

Sources

Knutson, Jonathan. “The Chased a Dream: Gamble Skogmo Stores Built from Long Friendship That Began in Arthur.” The ForumMarch 13, 1999.

Minesota Historical Society, “Biography of Bertin C. Gamble” http://www.mnhs.org/library/findaids/00479.xml (accessed November 1, 2010).

State of North Dakota, “Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, Bertin C. Gamble” http://www.governor.state.nd.us/awards/rr-gallery/gamble.html (accessed November 1, 2010).

University of North Dakota, “UND Celebrates 123rd Founders Day with Banquet, Awards Thursday” http://www2.und.edu/our/news/story.php?id=1750 (accessed November 1, 2010).

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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