Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bertram (Bert) Uddenberg, Sr. 1894-1963

The name Uddenberg always brings to mind grocery stores.  After all the first thing Captain Axel Uddenberg did after his family arrived in Gig Harbor in 1907 was to open a grocery store and meat market on the first floor of his newly built home.  And the name Uddenberg remained associated with the grocery business until 1997 when his grandson, Keith Uddenberg sold his chain of grocery stores which stetted from Everett to Vancouver, WA.

But we are going to concentrate on one of Axel’s other sons, and Keith’s uncle:  Bertram Uddenberg, Sr., known familiarly as Bert.  Naturally Bert worked in his father’s groceries stores from age 16 until 1918 when he left to join the US Army where he served in the Medical Corps.  Bert had gotten married the year before to Ebba Gustafson.

It is said that Bert had a strong belief in the future of automobiles.  Was he aware of the first steam driven tractor in 1771; the steam buggy built in Canada in 1867 or Karl Benz’s gas cars in 1886 or the first German electric car in 1888?  Who knows. But he was aware of the appearance of automobiles and their impact here at home before the war, and even more so after the war ended.   The early cars  making news were the following: Model T Ford 1908; Chevrolet 1911; Dodge 1914 and Plymouth in 1928.  Of course there was the impact and also the use of combat vehicles during the war.  So he could easily see how the automobile would effect the  future 

Remembering the hard work involved in loading up a wheelbarrow full of groceries, pushing it up the Soundview Drive hill to deliver to the fishermen’s wives when their husbands were fishing most likely made the lure of selling automobiles appealing, and, he hoped, profitable.

When the war ended and Bert came home, rather than working in his father’s grocery store, he opened Gig Harbor Garage in north Gig Harbor. There he serviced and sold a small fleet of Fords provided by Howe Motor, Port Orchard, WA, a business model similar to being a franchise partner.  By mid-1920s Bert became Gig Harbor’s Dodge-Plymouth dealership.  

Bert Uddenberg's first Gig Harbor Garage across the street from Finholm's Grocery Store.  Jeannette Uddenberg on running board, Lola Uddenberg and Rick VanDerWorde in vehicle

As his business grew and sales volume increased he and his dealership caught the eyes and ears of the Ford Motor Company and in 1932, he was appointed Gig Harbor’s first Ford dealer selling V8 Fords.  He built a new garage and dealership building at the corner of Harborview Drive and Stinson Avenue.  The building still stands and is currently occupied by Speedy Glass, and I believe, Lighthouse Marine occupies the yard.
1932 Bert Uddenberg Motors corner of Stinson Avenue & Harborview Drive

Bert based his business model on the same ideals his father used in the grocery business:  service and fair dealings with his customers.  Immediately following opening the new location he placed an ad in the local newspaper, Peninsula Gateway, advertising “Western Oil - 10 cents a quart; Eastern Oil 25 cents a quart; Grease job 75 cents with oil change”.  “Changing oil required draining the transmission as well as the crankcase-both were lubricated by the same oil.  A grease job consisted of filling the grease cups - a screw down type.  Flat tires were patched when they happened unless the inner tube was need; it was tucked under the back seat.”  
Bert Uddenberg Motors

Another ploy he used in attracting new customers occurred when a new Ford assembly plant opened in Seattle.  He offered free transportation to the assembly plant for any prospective customers so they could see the work and assembly of Ford cars - 300 cars assembled daily.  These field trips worked to Bert’s advantage and did exactly what he hoped they would do: create new buyers and long-term customers..

But he continued his involvement in the community where he was instrumental in equipping the local peninsula fire districts, the Gig Harbor Police department and the utility companies as well as the school districts.  He had three fire trucks equipped in Chicago and driven by to the Gig Harbor peninsula and their final homes.  Perkins Funeral Home purchased the peninsula’s first funeral coach from Bert Uddenberg.  And, in 1948, he delivered the first patrol car, a Ford V8 panel, to the new Town of Gig Harbor.
Peninsula Light Company's Trucks

When WWII caused the auto business to slow down because gasoline, fuel oil, tires and cars because of rationing from 1942 until 1945, Bert made another innovative business decision.  Exercising his innate business acumen he changed the dealership showroom into a grocery store with a soda fountain which his daughters ran.  Jack “Jake” Bujacich was the stock boy.  (Jake also fished with his uncle, brother and father and in 1944 joined the Merchant Marines, after the war became one of Gig Harbor’s first police officers, was mayor of Gig Harbor, a Pierce County Commissioner, Pierce County Executive, and so much more.)
Bert Uddenberg Motors Gasoline Station at Harborview Drive & Stinson Avenue

In 1961, Bert decided to retire from the auto business and sold his dealership and auto business to Stieg Gabrielson and Joe Henderson.  He kept though the insurance office at the dealership and specialized in selling fire fighting equipment.

Despite the other garages, car dealers and gasoline stations in Gig Harbor, Bert Uddenberg Sr.  has been credited by many as “putting the Peninsula on rubber tired wheels.  He was progressive in his thinking and business practices and a leader in the civic life of the (Gig Harbor peninsula) area.”

Although he died in the spring of 1963, his memory lives on.


  • The Peninsula Gateway, April 1972 Bill Newton 40th Anniversary Edition
  • Gig Harbor Life - Uddenberg Family Roots Grow Deep in Harbor History 8/30/10
  • Gig Harbor Life - The Bujacich Brothers - Elders of Gig Harbor’s Fishing Community 8/28/10
  • SCW Little Histores Gig Harbor Washington by Jack R. Evans

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  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. My grandmother, Lola Kooley (nee Uddenberg), is one of Bert SR.s daughters and has many stories of growing up in Gig Harbor. My favorite is the time she was working at the family soda fountain and she was making peach flavored hard ice cream. By accident she dropped the lid of the peach syrup in the batch and was afraid a customer would end up breaking a tooth. By chance it was in the very block of ice cream the family room home for that night's dessert.