A Journey Through Time: H.A. Thompson & Sons

6 mins read

Est. 1908

H. A. Thompson & Sons is an HVAC contractor that provides commercial HVAC services throughout North Dakota. The company was founded in 1908, an impressive 116 years ago, by Harry A. Thompson. While they’ve made immeasurable contributions to the Bismarck-Mandan community for over a century, the company is showing no signs of slowing down. I had the pleasure of connecting with Mark Thompson, Owner and President of H. A. Thompson & Sons, as well as a grandson of the original founder, to discuss the business’ growth, keeping the company within the family, notable projects they’ve had a hand in, and much more.

Did You Know?

H. A. Thompson & Sons celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2008, a true accomplishment for any business to celebrate!

Check out some of the oldest businesses of Bismarck-Mandan!

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45% fail during the first 5 years, and 65% fail during the first 10 years. Only 25% of new businesses make it to 15 years or more. This fact exemplifies the great strides that many businesses in the Bismarck-Mandan community have made over decades of community support. 

There’s something special about these places; it’s not just about the museums. Our history is woven into the fabric of our oldest businesses, the true cornerstones of our community. Just think about it for a moment: from the restaurants to the family-run markets, these businesses have seen it all. They’ve braved countless challenges and come out stronger on the other side. They’re not just old; they’re timeless, adapting and thriving through the years.

This month, I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with various businesses in the Bismarck-Mandan area. We took a nostalgic journey, exploring their beginnings, their role in the community, and so much more. It was like stepping back in time but seeing how far we’ve come. Let’s tip our hats to these historic businesses that have stood the test of time!

Their Story

The story of H. A. Thompson & Sons, begins with the journey of Harry Abbott Thompson. Harry, Mark’s grandfather, alongside his father Isaac Woodman Thompson and family, left Lewiston, ME, and settled near Menoken, ND, in 1885. By 1895, Harry had made his way to Bismarck, finding employment in a hardware store. It was there that he identified a gap in the market for plumbing and heating services, which would eventually lead to the birth of the family business.

Harry, marrying in 1896, welcomed three children into the world: Mary, Bernard, and Mark’s father, Harry Abbott Thompson II, who was born in 1908, marking the same year Harry Thompson I officially launched H. A. Thompson & Sons. Harry A. Thompson I wasn’t just a businessman; he also devoted himself to public service. From 1901, he served as Bismarck’s first paid fire chief until his passing in 1935. His tenure was briefly interrupted for eight years while he served on the city commission.

Following Mark’s grandfather’s death in 1935, the leadership of the company passed to his father, Harry Abbott Thompson II, and his brother Bernard. Under their stewardship, the business not only weathered the challenges of the Great Depression and World War II but also came out stronger on the other side. A significant milestone was in 1954 when the company won the bid for the mechanical construction of the Provident Life Insurance Company building, a project that heralded a new era focused predominantly on commercial construction for H.A. Thompson & Sons. By 1961, the company’s growth was evident, boasting a fleet of 10 trucks, as they expanded their influence and capabilities in the Bismarck-Mandan region.

Harry Abbott Thompson, Former Owner of H. A. Thompson & Sons
Harry A. Thompson, II, Former Owner of H. A. Thompson & Sons
Mark W. Thompson, Owner and President of H. A. Thompson & Sons

Mark’s father managed the company for four decades, leading it until 1975, when he passed the reigns to his sons, Mark and Harry Abbott “Tom” Thompson. Mark joined the company in 1975, fresh from his service in the Air Force, becoming the 23rd employee. The late 1970s were a period of significant growth for Bismarck, spurred by flourishing farm prices, the construction of coal-fired power plants, and the burgeoning oil industry. Predictions of Bismarck’s rapid expansion to a population of 200,000 by 2000 fueled construction throughout the area.

The company’s journey took an exciting turn in 1991 when they were approached by a representative of the Linc Corporation from Pittsburgh, PA. This meeting led H.A. Thompson & Sons to join as a franchise in the HVAC preventive maintenance enterprise, marking a strategic shift towards a more stable and consistent business model, moving away from the unpredictable nature of commercial construction.

The legacy of H. A. Thompson & Sons continued to flourish with the involvement of the fourth generation of the family. In 2013 and 2014, Mark’s daughters, Jennifer Thompson and Tracy Kindem joined the business, followed by his nephew, Louis Hart. Over the past 33 years, H. A. Thompson & Sons has expanded its HVAC preventive maintenance division from just 1 technician to a robust team of 46. While embracing this new direction, the company has maintained its commitment to commercial construction, ensuring that H. A. Thompson & Sons remains a versatile and dynamic presence in Bismarck’s business landscape.

Words of Advice from Mark Thompson

  • For a family business to have longevity, each generation must produce an heir that not only is desirous of leading the company but also capable. All businesses are difficult to make and keep successful over a long period of time, and those difficulties are multiplied in family businesses, so work every day to the best that you can be.
  • As with all businesses, satisfied customers are the best way to survive. We have always taken that very seriously and try our hardest to deliver.
  • Once reliable, hard-working employees are attracted, hired, and trained, make sure to care for them and reward them to help ensure they will stay with you and support your mission.
  • Don’t underestimate the need to create a positive image, not just through good work and credibility, but to always give back to the communities you serve. Philanthropy is a very large part of who we are!

Did You Know?

According to a study conducted by Cornell Johnson, only 4 out of 10,000 family business start-ups survive to the 4th generation, making H. A. Thompson and Sons’ business feats all the more impressive!

Q: How has H. A. Thompson & Sons adapted to changing times?

A: Our business has seen great change over the past 116 years, both in the equipment we install and the equipment we utilize in our work. We’ve seen significant changes and growth between the introduction of air conditioning in the 1950s, the push to high efficiency in the 1970s and beyond, the predominance of electronics and digital controls, as well as the evolution of products and systems to improve indoor air quality with the COVID-19 pandemic’s need to purify the air that we live and work in.

Part of our success in keeping up with all the changes is to forever remain heavily involved with our trade associations (local, state, and national), and be active participants at conferences and seminars that keep us informed of the latest and greatest equipment and systems. We have fostered close relationships with manufacturers’ reps who have come to us with changes and improvements in their products.

In addition, through franchise relationships, we’re in close contact with many of our peers around the country and often share new developments and best practices. In any given year, we send 15-20 of our employees to specialized trainings and seminars across the United States. We invest a significant amount in keeping our employees and company on the tip of the spear in our industry. 

Q: What’s next for H. A. Thompson & Sons?

A: To continue much the same as we have for decades— providing quality work and producing customer satisfaction. Our goal has always been to provide great employees with a rewarding career, not just a job, and we have been blessed to have many long-time employees going to work every day helping us deliver on our promises. We have realized that with our success, we can help make lives better for many people, and we hope to continue to build on our philanthropic efforts in the years to come.

"For me personally, the most memorable milestone is our daughters leaving very successful careers and joining the family business, our family's legacy."

Memorable Milestones

Some of the buildings that H. A. Thompson & Sons has performed work on over the years include:

  • The Bismarck Events Center Expo Additions
  • Bismarck High School
  • Bismarck’s Provident Building
  • The piping work on the first power plant, UPA-CPA in Stanton, North Dakota
  • Conversion of 65 buildings in downtown Bismarck from central steam heating (from a steam generating plant) to individual gas-fired boilers in each building
  • Construction of Kirkwood Mall (when helicopters were brought in to set the roof-top units in place!)
  • The 1983 addition and renovation of Bismarck’s Sanford Medical Center (Medcenter One at the time of construction)
  • The North Dakota Heritage Center
  • The Montana Dakota Utilities Headquarters Building
  • The BSC Aquatic & Wellness Center
  • The BSC Polytechnic Building
  • First International Bank and Trust 
  • North Dakota’s Gateway to Science 
  • Missouri Slope Lutheran Care Center

H. A. Thompson & Sons 

Since 1908

[email protected]
Facebook | /HAThompsonAndSons
911 S 9th St, Bismarck, ND 58504