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Home North Carolina Catawba County City of Hickory Historical Markers Piedmont Wagon Company

Piedmont Wagon Company

First Avenue at Tenth Street, Hickory, NC, USA

Latitude & Longitude: 35° 43' 20.0712", -81° 24' 20.646"
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"Manufacturer of horse-drawn wooden wagons. At peak capacity produced 1000 per month. Operated from 1880 to 1940s 1/10 mile north."
     In a felicitous turn of phrase local writer George Hahn wrote in 1911 that Hickory “was cradled in a wagon bed.” His reference was to Piedmont Wagon Company that had made the town nationally famous. Founded by A. L. Ramseur and George Bonniwell on the site of Ramseur’s rural sawmill, the company moved to the outskirts of Hickory in 1880. The site selected, at the junction of two railroads, was ideal for such a business. Nearby, other operations, such as Bonniwell’s woodworking company, also took root. But it was Piedmont which, in the words of Gary Freeze, “became one of the most conspicuous examples of New South prosperity in North Carolina,” on the order of the tobacco factories in Durham.

     The success of the company can be measured on several counts. Their products, principally horse-drawn wooden wagons, were sold primarily across eleven states in the Southeast from Virginia to Texas. Best known for wagons with green bodies and red gear, the company was widely admired for the durability of the product. Output increased dramatically in the 1880s and Piedmont, by 1900 employing 100 workers, even weathered the depression of the 1890s with little problem. At the peak of capacity the thirteen-acre plant produced 1,000 wagons per month, rivalling the output of their chief in-state competitors, Nissen Wagon Works in Winston-Salem and Hackney Wagon Company in Wilson.

     The division of labor at the factory was reflected in the constituent parts of the plant—the lumber yard, blacksmith shop, paint shop, bed department, and shipping department. The workers were especially loyal, many spending their careers with the employer. Their reputation was such that, during World War I, they were engaged by the French army to build metal carts, a departure from their usual wood products. With the rise of the internal combustion engine in the 1920s, the fortunes of the company quickly changed. Sold to Daniel Rhyne in 1924, the property was sold again in the 1940s when production ground to a halt. A major fire destroyed much of the plant in 1958 and most of the rest was bulldozed in 1960 but one warehouse remains.

National Register of Historic Places nomination (1983)
Kirk F. Mohney and Laura Phillips, From Tavern to Town: The Architectural History of Hickory, North Carolina (1988)
Gary R. Freeze, The Catawbans: Crafters of a North Carolina County (1995)
Hickory Daily Record, August 19,1960; September 11,1965; and October 5, 1977
Sanborn Maps (1885-1931)
United States Census, 1880, Manufacturing, and 1910, Population
George W. Hahn, The Catawba Soldier of the Civil War (1911)
Related Themes: C.S.A., Confederate States of America, Confederacy
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North Carolina Civil War Historical Markers.

Piedmont Wagon Company Historical Marker Location Map, Hickory, North Carolina