North Carolina-Horseless Carriage-January 5

North Carolina People, Places, and Things-January 5
I am the dad to five adult children. As they were growing up I attempted to remind them they were special and to implore them to learn something new. My goal was to do that daily.

In 2016 my goal is to learn something new daily on the people, places, and things that make North Carolina special.

At First Presbyterian Church in Lumberton, NC on Sunday our minister Rev. David Ruth talked about having to purchase a new car over the 2015 Christmas holidays. David prior to become an ordained minister was a car dealer in Fayetteville, NC. Ironically during his remarks on Sunday he mentioned another member of the congregation Jerry Johnson who also was a former car dealer. I will save David’s story about why he needed to purchase a new car for another day.

What his remarks made me thing about as I walked home from church was what was the early car business like. I went online and found out it truly was a “horseless carriage” business early in North Carolina.


The first automobiles began appearing in North Carolina around 1898. I use the term automobile because what was happening was manufacturers of horse carriages were adding a motor to the carriage. Hence the name “horseless carriage”.

Richard J. Corbitt had moved to Henderson, NC, in 1899 and created a very successful buggy manufacturing business. In 1905, he successfully sought additional capital to expand the Corbitt Buggy Company to convert one of his three factory buildings into auto production.



Corbitt was in business in Henderson, NC for roughly the first half of the twentieth century.

After an apprenticeship in the tobacco business under J.P. Taylor of Henderson, Richard J. Corbitt became a buyer and seller of leaf tobacco, representing Taylor in his birthplace of Enfield, NC and in Henderson, where he settled permanently in 1894.  The following year he went into business on his own.  Corbitt foresaw the big companies dominating the tobacco industry, so in 1899 he decided to enter the buggy manufacturing business.  In 1899, there were four buggy builders in Henderson; eight years later, Corbitt had bought all three of his competitors.

In 1905, Corbitt built his first automobile, which he called a “motor buggy”.  Automobiles went into full production in 1907.  He imported laborers from Detroit so he would have workers knowledgeable about automobiles.  But this only added to his costs, and he was losing money on every car he sold.

In 1910 Corbitt built his first truck and the profit picture began to change.  In 1913, he decided to forget automobiles and become a full-time truck builder. For most of the next 40 years, the company made money, building trucks and trailers.  Photo below shows what the factory looked like in 1946.


The trailers included vans, drop-frame vans, and flatbeds up to 36’ in length.  Most of the large motor carriers of the Carolinas came to be Corbitt customers. The company closed in 1952.

Corbitt Sign

The Corbitt Preservation Association was formed on November 16, 2003 by individuals who had a vision of history and love for these great vehicles built in Henderson, NC from 1899 thru 1954.  The last  Corbitt was built from spare parts in 1958 and sold to Norris Collins of Franklin Oil Company in Franklinton, NC.


Corbitt Preservation

Some good links to learn more

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