The Florence Wagon Company opened in 1889 in Florence, Ala., when owner A.D. Bellamy moved his Atlanta Wagon Works to town.
Capital stock was sold to investors and a wagon manufacturing facility was constructed on the south bank of the Tennessee River in east Florence. There, the company was easily accessible to both boats and trains, which allowed iron and raw timber to be shipped in, and finished products to be shipped out to major national markets and even abroad, including to France during World War I.
Florence wagons were of high-quality craftsmanship. According to a May 21, 1958, Florence Times newspaper, to own a new Florence wagon in the old days, with its green bed and red wheels, was equivalent to driving the swankiest automobile in the 1950s.
By 1904, wagon sales were soaring, and the company employed 175 people. Peak annual production of 15,000 wagons ranked the company first in the United States and second in North America, behind Canada’s Studebaker Wagon Works.
The company’s success was due primarily to the popularity of the “light running” quality of its wagons, according to a U.S. Department of the Interior National Register of Historic Places document. Company catalogs detail the different models and various combinations of parts and accessories.
At its height, the company owned its own light plant and water tower, and had equipped its own fire brigade, reportedly “able to quench a fire in about one and a half minutes after the alarm sounded,” according to Clifford S. Hallman, a former employee, as quoted in the book Florence Wagon Co. Memories & More.
Wagon production continued strong into the 1930s, when the internal combustible engine became the wagon company’s undoing. Mass-produced, motorized trucks and tractors replaced horse-drawn wagons, and the Florence company’s sales dropped off. In an attempt to remain competitive, the company switched its production to lawn chairs and swings, and by 1941, the operation moved to Hickory, N.C., but it never reopened there. FC
Read more about the Florence Wagon Company and its more-recent impact on the city of Florence: “Book Sparks Renewed Interest in Florence Wagon Company.”