A look at the oldest black-owned business in the U.S. founded in 1881 and still going strong

Theodora Aidoo Feb 1, 2020 at 11:00am

February 01, 2020 at 11:00 am | History, Success Story

Theodora Aidoo

Theodora Aidoo | Staff Writer

February 01, 2020 at 11:00 am | History, Success Story

John T. Ward founded founded E.E. Ward Moving & Storage Co. in 1881. Pic Credit: eeward.com

E.E. Ward Moving & Storage was founded in 1881 and is the oldest Black-owned business in the U.S. 

The company, which started as a stop on the Underground Railroad, has now become a respected moving company in the country.

Over the past 139 years, as a small business in Columbus, Ohio, the company has survived the Great Depression, two World Wars, the Great Recession, and 25 presidents.

The company started off with just two horses and a wagon and has grown over decades into a multi-million-dollar corporation.

Back in the 1840s, John T. Ward, who founded the company, served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad using his horses and wagon to help slaves escape to freedom through a network of hiding places and safe houses.

Pic Credit: eeward.com

During the Civil War, Ward got government contracts to haul supplies and equipment for the U.S. Army. His son, William Ward, soon joined his father’s business and in 1881, the two launched the Ward Transfer Line.

In 1899, the company added storage to its services and then renamed it the E.E. Ward Transfer and Storage Company, after Edgar Earl Ward, John T. Ward’s grandson who was running the business by then.

The business started using motor vehicles in the early 1900s, phasing out their last horse-powered moving team in 1921, according to the CNN. By 1925, it had expanded to more commercial clients, including Steinway Piano Company.

Eldon Ward, William’s grandson, joined the family business in 1945. He was said to have been very active in charity work. However, he became the last Ward family member to own the company.

Eldon Ward decided to retire to Phoenix in 1996 but he did not have any children of his own to continue the family business so his niece was managing the business after him.

The local branch of the YMCA in Columbus, Ohio, where Eldon Ward used to swim every morning, now bears his name.
The local branch of the YMCA in Columbus, Ohio, where Eldon Ward used to swim every morning, now bears his name – Pic Credit: CNN

The business was going to leave the Ward family’s hands since Eldon’s niece was considering selling it off. But then Brian Brooks, whose father was an attorney for E.E. Ward for 20 years, was asked by his mother to help keep the company alive.

“Frankly, I didn’t know that industry. So I hired a business consultant to do due diligence,” Brooks, who is now the company’s current president, told CNN. “But I felt strongly about the long legacy of the business and I wanted to keep that alive.”

He bought the firm with a business partner, Otto Beatty, in April 2001. According to him, at the time, E.E. Ward had two office personnel, five movers and drivers, four trucks and four trailers and was generating about $300,000 in annual sales in a small office space.

It now operates a fleet of about a dozen long haul trucks and two warehouses in Columbus and Charlotte, North Carolina. It also serves as an agent for the moving company North American Van Lines and generates more than $5 million in sales annually.

Beatty left the business in 2014. “From the early days of E.E. Ward’s ownership and management to now, the long legacy of the company and the goodwill it has created within the community is what has sustained it for this long and warranted it to be kept alive,” said Brooks, who now co-owns the company with his wife Dominique.

Brian Brooks and his wife Dominique are the curent co-owners of E.E. Ward.
Current co-owners of E.E. Ward, Brian Brooks and his wife Dominique – Pic Credit: CNN

The oldest black-owned company prides itself on the fact that it has never lost focus on its principles of excellent service and giving back to the community.

“We pride ourselves on our excellent service, and we have the credentials to back it up for when you’re doing a ‘moving companies near me’ search,” the company’s website states.

Meanwhile, Brooks and his wife have made it a point to honor the Ward family’s commitment to social good by continuing the philanthropic initiatives of the Wards.

Together with co-sponsors and other businesses, E.E. Ward ensures the Laps for Learning annual fundraiser at the local YMCA. The event “raises money to send children from underprivileged areas to swimming lessons and classes about water safety.”

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