Born in Denmark, Maine in 1840, Hazen Pingree would go on to become one of the great mayors in American history. His election signaled the beginning of the Progressive Era, a major period of reform that attacked problems created by rapid urban and industrial growth.
Born on a rocky farm in Maine, he came to Detroit after serving in the Union army during the Civil War. In 1866, he teamed with Charles Smith to start the Pingree and Smith shoe company By the 1890s, the company was the largest show manufacturer in the American West.
As he prospered, Pingree became part of Detroit’s elite. He was not, however, politically active. It was, therefore, somewhat a surprise when his Republican friends nominated him for mayor in 1889. He won, taking office in 1890.
Once in office, Pingree recognized the need for significant reforms. With unexpected energy and a ferocious temper, he fought corruption and special interests. He fought on behalf of the working poor and was known for creating “potato patches” and vegetable gardens to help feed families during the 1893 Depression.
In 1896, while he was still serving as mayor, he was elected as Governor of Michigan. He tried to hold both offices, but when forced to choose he resigned as mayor and moved to Lansing. He served two terms, leaving office in 1900.
Hazen Pingree died in England in 1901, at the age of 60.