Slated to commemorate its 140th years in business, E.E. Ward Moving & Storage is recognized by the United States Department of Commerce as America's oldest surviving black-owned business and is deserving of much honor, given its role in the lives of many, spread across the United States.
Columbus' lost history is America's lost history -- and one that should be celebrated.
John T. Ward is an important figure, who our classrooms and history books often forget to mention. He served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, where he used his own horses and wagons to help slaves escape from the immoral bonds of slavery. Later, he and his sons would go on to play a key role in helping others start their new lives, launching his business shortly after the Civil War and remaining a pillar within the community until the day that he died.
Starting his business with just two horses and a wagon, E. E. Ward’s company was founded in 1881 and would preserve through the drawbacks of the Great Depression, two World Wars, Segregation, 25 presidential administrations, multiple recessions, the remnants of an Industrial Age, the Spanish Flu and the 2020 pandemic.
Today, the company employees an upwards of 75 employees, strong, moving both people and businesses from one location to the next.
"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," states Brian Brooks, Co-Owner of operations, alongside Dominique, his wife. “The company’s story about perseverance, overcoming challenges, a commitment to community, and the intention to celebrate E.E. Ward, a black-owned business legacy.”
In 1914, the company began its shift to motorized moving and retired its last horse in 1921.
A once vital junction on the Underground Railroad, it is now an award-winning, multi-million-dollar moving company with a fleet of more than a dozen long-haul trucks and two separate warehouses. The company operates in two locations, with a second office in the Greater Charlotte Area, and has been since honored by the 2003 Congressional Record, which recounts the history of E.E. Ward history with great conviction:
“The Ward family has longstanding roots in Ohio dating back before the Civil War. From 1842 to 1858, John T. Ward was a conductor on the Underground Railroad which ran through Columbus, and the Ward home was a well-known stop. During the Civil War, John T. Ward received government contracts to haul munitions, supplies, and equipment for the U.S. Army. After the Civil War, John’s son, William Ward, began working for his father, and then he went to work for the Union Transfer and Storage Company. At Union Transfer, he moved up through the ranks serving as a teamster, work supervisor, foreman, and rate clerk. In 1881, William Ward rejoined his father John T. Ward and together they founded the Ward Transfer Line, a wagon transportation business in downtown Columbus. Since 1881 the company has evolved and changed with the times. In 1889, the company changed its name to E.E. Ward Transfer and Storage Company, when the youngest son, Edgar Earl Ward, assumed management of the company. He was 18 years old.”
In 1996 Eldon Ward, grandson to John T. Ward and with no heir of his own, would be the last of the Wards to run the company.
Passionate about the distinguished legacy that Ward and his family ultimately left behind, Brian Brooks, godson to Eldon, would swear to “embody service with both dignity and strong moral character, never losing sight of the principles of excellent service.” Buying the business from Eldon Ward in 2001, Brian has since kept his promise. He and his wife continue giving back to the community on which it was originally founded.
“Today we are humbled and honored to be a part of the legacy’s continuation,” Brooks states. “In the moving business, you must be reliable, a company people can count on. We take the trust our clients put in us very seriously and work hard to earn and then keep it each and every day.”
“The company has been through a remarkable journey over 140 years and due to hard work and team members dedicated to the customer experience, we remain at the forefront of our industry. Today our organization and people are strong, but the work is not over,” Brooks concluded. “Our efforts today and forward are necessary to position the company for the next 140 years, and that is truly something to celebrate.”
E.E. Ward’s historical past is part of the company culture today that continues to inspire its future. According to the company, The E.E. Ward Moving & Storage legacy is being captured in a children’s book that the Brooks are authoring and will publish later this year.
“When it comes to the book, our goal is to take this magnificent story and share it with generations to come,” explains Dominique. “And while we celebrate Black History Month each February, this story is one that should be celebrated all year round.”
The company is also launching a line of 140th-anniversary commemorative shirts, which will be added to their 1881 apparel line and can be found at shop1881.com. The company has also unveiled a specially designed 140th-anniversary logo that it will be using throughout 2021.