An Early Automobile Saleswoman

Posted by Anita on March 3, 2021

(written by Anita Taylor Doering, Archives Staff)

Dorothy Hofweber grew up in downtown La Crosse in the early part of the twentieth century.  She was the youngest of 12 children of Peter and Katharina Hofweber, and would have been familiar with the hands-on mechanical minds of her father and brothers.  By 1916 when Dorothy was only thirteen years old, Peter had already been selling automobiles in La Crosse for 15 years! 

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The Peter Hofweber business (street level) and home (upstairs) where Peter and his sons began their interest in the early automobile retail business at 113 Main Street.  The original Ford Motor Cars and Federal Tires ads can still be seen on the alley side of the photo.


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Peter Hofweber as he appeared in the April 1, 1916, La Crosse Tribune


Peter was a plumber but he clearly had a mechanical mind.  He and his son Joseph built their own truck in 1904 for use in the family plumbing and well business.  Joseph also dabbled in the car dealership business, but was really more of an inventor – designing and inventing accessories for the automotive industry.

Peter likely passed along the need to market automobiles to women as well as to men.  Each year the car as a machine became more reliable and mechanic garages could fix vehicles.  Owning a personal vehicle was becoming more affordable and practical for the middle class.

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An ad for the Packard from the John L. Hofweber dealership, 1921


Another son, John L. Hofweber, started a dealership separate from his dad in 1916, selling the Oakland.  Dorothy worked for her brother John in the office but also became part of the salesforce explaining the workings of a drive shaft to women automobile shoppers. She was touted in the local newspaper as being “one of the few women automobile merchants of the country.”

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Dorothy Hofweber, Oct. 4, 1925, La Crosse Tribune


Dorothy was quoted in 1925 as saying, “Women resent the idea that they have not sufficient brains to understand the mechanical parts of a car…I use a piece of string to show them just what seven main bearings for a crankshaft mean.”  Dorothy recalled stopping to look at a car at a Chicago auto show when a salesman approached her and asked, “Can I tell you what makes the wheels go ‘round?” Offended at his assumption that women knew nothing about the mechanics of a car, Dorothy set out to educate any potential female buyers in the Hofweber dealership.

That fall, Dorothy married Romy Hammes, a former La Crosse resident who also was in the car business in Illinois.  Many of their children and relatives were involved in the automobile industry as well.

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Dorothy Hofweber Hammes as she appeared in the June 23, 1963, La Crosse Tribune


In 1963 Dorothy received an honorary degree from St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana, for her lifetime of charity work.  She died two years later in Kankakee, Illinois.