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Home North Carolina Vance County City of Henderson Historical Markers Corbitt Company

Corbitt Company

US 158 Bypass at Dabney Drive, Henderson, NC, USA

Latitude & Longitude: 36° 19' 8.5044", -78° 24' 52.6572"
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"Built buggies, 1899; by 1907, automobiles; later tractors, buses, and, during WWII, trucks for military. Shop 3/4 mi. S.E. closed 1952."
     Like many of North Carolina’s early mechanized transportation entrepreneurs, Richard Corbitt ran a horse-drawn buggy company before shifting to the manufacture of automobiles. His ability to adopt assembly line construction practices, develop new designs, and market his products propelled his business into the forefront of the state’s nascent automotive industry. Corbitt, born in Enfield in 1873, moved to Henderson in 1895 and, by 1899, had begun to produce horse-drawn buggies. Conscious of changes on the transportation horizon, Corbitt re-tooled his business and manufactured in 1907 the “Corbitt Motor Buggy,” the state’s first commercially produced automobile. By 1912, Corbitt was advertising nationally and had again re-worked his automobile to offer a new design with a longer wheelbase and more powerful engine.

     To counter sagging profits from auto sales, Corbitt produced his first experimental truck in 1909. The truck was a modified version of an earlier automobile and it became his best-selling vehicle. Demand for his trucks outweighed automobile orders and the last auto was manufactured by Corbitt in 1914. Trucks remained a strong selling point throughout the remainder of the company’s existence. Corbitt’s trucks and buses were a favorite throughout the state and he benefited from political contacts in Raleigh, resulting in quantity purchases for the use of the State Highway Department.

     In 1917, Corbitt furnished the state’s first motorized school bus for Pamlico County. Corbitt’s reputation in the truck building business grew as consumers were pleased with his sturdy, well-built vehicle. He earned lucrative government contracts for military vehicles and, during World War II, delivered 4,000 trucks under contract and employed 300 workers. Corbitt also designed and produced the T-33 military truck, then the second largest truck in the world and the most versatile in power and speed. The Corbitt Company was the largest truck manufacturer in the South as a result of its government contacts.

     Although Corbitt’s cars and trucks sold well in the south, he was unable to keep pace with the mass-production operations in Detroit. Corbitt retired in 1952 at the age of seventy-six and the company ceased production soon thereafter. His company outlasted many early automobile businesses in the state and emerged as a leader in truck production. Historian Robert Ireland attributed Corbitt’s success and longevity to his use of assembly line production rather than innovative design or technological advancements.

Robert E. Ireland, Entering the Auto Age: The Early Automobile in NC, 1900-1930 (1990)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 433-434—sketch by George T. Blackburn II
Heritage of Vance County (1984)
(Raleigh) News and Observer, September 5, 1917
Corbitt Company Historical Marker Location Map, Henderson, North Carolina