History’s Forgotten Car Maker: Richard Corbitt’s Motor Buggys and Trucks

Richard Corbitt (February 15, 1873 – May 16, 1961) was a successful North Carolina to­bacco merchant during the 1890s. Forced out of business by a large trust, Corbitt set up the Corbitt Buggy Company in 1899 in Henderson, North Carolina.

The company was unable to compete with mass-produced cars from Detroit. So in 1910, the factory was converted once more, from cars to trucks. His first trucks were the conventional chain drive and then expanded until he became known as the largest truck manufacturer in the South thanks to large contracts with the state Highway Department and the U.S. military.

Corbitt Truck, Model 64; Body Type W-12; Corbitt Photo Number 553; Henderson, NC, c. 1915 – Photo Courtesy of NC State Archives

By 1916 the company had developed an extensive line of trucks ranging from 5-ton capacity down to 1-ton. During World War I, he supplied custom made trucks to the U.S. Army and U.S Navy. During World War II, over four thousand standard trucks were manufactured for the war effort. The T-33 military truck was the second-largest truck in the world and was powered by a radial air-cooled aircraft engine.

Corbitt truck built for US Navy, Henderson, NC – Photo Courtesy of NC State Archives

Corbit is also known for furnishing North Carolina with the State’s first motorized school bus along with an extensive line of Corbit built trailers and farm tractors.

Corbit School Bus – Photo courtesy of NC State Archives

Corbitt played a role in one of the biggest moving jobs ever. A Corbitt truck pulled Howard Hughes’ 75-ton seaplane, the “Spruce Goose”, from Hughes Aircraft at Culver City, CA to a pier at Long Beach 28 miles away. At the time, this was the largest bulk load ever pulled over the highway.

Corbit truck towing the “Spruce Goose” – Photo Courtesy of Robby@Flickr

Richard Corbitt retired in 1952 at the age of 76 and the company ceased production and was sold and later disbanded. An independent parts department remained in operation supplying Corbitt trucks that were still in use. When Mr. Corbitt died, took his knowledge and designs with him. There was no way to convert his thinking with modern technology to compete in the then fast-changing world.

The stockholders opted for voluntary liquidation rather than face forced liquidation or merger later on. The company was sold to United Industrial Syndicate of New York City, a liquidation specialist. An attempt was made to revive the company in 1957 but sadly did not succeed.

By Hope Thompson

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