Little has been written about the exploits of Bob Nelson but in the articles which are available, one finds extraordinary achievements, both in the military and in the car business. Born in Pittsburgh, Nelson joined the Air Force in the early 1940's, but like all blacks interested in flying at the beginning of World War II, they were not allowed to do so.
Subsequently, the Air Force established its own, but separate, "Black" air force, the now well-known Tuskegee Airmen. Nelson received his wings in 1943 and was assigned to the 332 Squadron. During combat in Italy in the 1940's, Nelson, in a P-39, flew a total of 130 missions and received numerous decorations. For those interested in reading more about the "Black Knights", a book published by Homan and Reilly is recommended.
After World War II, Nelson attended the University of Pittsburgh and received a Bachelor of Science degree. With the Korean War in progress, he was then brought back into the Air Force where he flew 66 combat missions. After being discharged, Nelson moved to Chicago where in the late 1950's, he opened a repair and service business located at 6052 S. Cottage Grove Avenue.
After building a reputation, he was approached by niche foreign auto manufacturers, MG and Peugeot. With a minimum investment, Nelson was awarded their franchises. He also acquired the Honda Motorcycles franchise.
Because of his experience and auto retail background, an opportunity presented itself in 1967. Ford Motor Company was looking for a replacement for the Ford dealership located at 7626 S. Stony Island Avenue on the Southside of Chicago. The decision was made to team up Nelson with the legendary Chicago Cub, Ernie Banks.
On August 1, 1967, Nelson-Banks Ford Sales, Inc. became a reality. With Banks' reputation and Nelson's business acumen, it was concluded the partnership would be ideal for the market. However, in spite of reasonable sales volumes, a declining market and an increasing cost of doing business forced Nelson-Banks to resign (1971).
Ford Motor closed the dealership. The partnership had operated under Ford's Dealer Development Investment Plan and their investments were returned. In 1974, Nelson was appointed the Chevrolet dealer in Maywood, Illinois and operated the dealership for several years. He then acquired a Wynn's Parts-Service franchise which he managed until his death in 1984.
History will record that Robert H. Nelson, Jr. was a 'top gun" in the air force and a successful 'risk taker' in the world of business.