(dolly clanging) - [Terzis] It's moving day.
The constant sounds of Dolly wheels smacking the stairs, almost like a slow methodical drumbeat.
This particular move happening at a third floor apartment in Charlotte's University City area, just one of the many moves happening across the area on any given day.
- In any kind of customer service type business, I mean, you're really only as good as your last transaction.
- [Terzis] But the business that's orchestrating this move isn't just another moving company.
Its roots run deep in American history.
- I brag about it all the time, and it's funny because we were just on Jeopardy year before last.
- [Alex Trebek] EE Ward Moving and Storage is the oldest black-owned company in the United States dating to the 1840s when a Ward was a conductor on this.
- What is the Underground Railroad?
- [Trebek] Yes.
- [Terzis] You heard right.
The EE Ward Moving and Storage Company got its start as part of the Underground Railroad system some 20 years before the Civil War.
- When you have a company that's so rich with culture you know, it's a great story to tell - [Terzis] Back then the business transported bags of feed and other supplies and materials on a 15 to 18 mile stretch through Columbus, Ohio.
- And so John T. Ward would use this business to help as a disguise to transport slaves to the next depot on the Underground Railroad.
Once slavery was abolished and we finally got to a point where there was not a need for that type of service, his son, William S. Ward, was also working at a local moving company.
So they decided to come together, since he already had his two horses and a wagon and they created their own company, the Ward Transfer Line.
- [Terzis] The award transfer line was born in 1881, later changing its name to EE Ward when it was handed down to the next generation.
- So Edgar Earl is what the EE stands for.
- Amazingly, they've been around ever since with the business staying in the Ward family for well over a hundred years.
- Eldon Ward, who was John T Ward's great-great grandson, Eldon ran the company from 1945 to 1995, for 50 years.
- [Terzis] EE Ward moving and storage eventually became America's oldest continuously operated black-owned business, a distinction recognized by the Department of Commerce.
- Isn't that crazy?
142 years this year, it's amazing.
For a company to stay in business that long, you're doing something right.
- Current owner Brian Brooks wasn't technically in the Ward family, but he was Eldon's godson.
- They really didn't have a succession plan, didn't really have anyone that really was interested within the family to continue the business.
So he was at a crossroads where he was either gonna have to shut the business down or sell it.
And so when my mother shared that story with me, I called him, - [Terzis] And in 2001, Brian purchased the business from his godfather.
- There was an emotional side that said, you know, man, I would hate to see this business go away.
You can't help but think about that when you're looking at something that has such a legacy and such a history.
- [Terzis] Partnering with North American Van Lines, EE Ward operated exclusively out of Ohio until 2018 but with so many people from up there moving down here, coming to the Carolinas only seemed natural.
The Charlotte branch opened in 2018, Raleigh in 2021.
- We developed a relationship with Richard Petty Motorsports and they became a customer of ours for a couple of their moves and then that spanned over to doing some business for Wood Brothers racing, another prominent NASCAR race team, did some work for them.
So we started developing these relationships.
(forklift beeping) - [Terzis] The Charlotte storage warehouse constantly has stuff coming in and going out, from yard tools and golf carts to foosball tables, basketball hoops, and riding mowers.
(tape ripping) And tape?
Oh, they go through a ton of it.
With each item meticulously packed and then getting checked off as it goes into shipping vaults as they call 'em.
- Because we're not the cheapest mover in Charlotte, but we're not the most expensive, but we're the best, and that's what we sell.
- [Terzis] To better understand how EE Ward has stood the test of time, look no further than their Google reviews.
A 4.8 out of five star rating, with Brian personally responding to every single review, good and not so good.
- A complaint is a gift.
So when you get feedback, or we or the voice of customer, to me there's no greater power in the service industry or customer service world than the voice of the customer.
- [Terzis] In 2021, the Charlotte branch was honored as North American Van Lines agent of the year, with criteria based on safety record, sales growth, number of moves, and customer service scores.
- That's a huge honor in this business, to know that you won branch or agent of the year.
- In the Van Line world, I mean, I guess it's easy.
it's like our Super Bowl.
- I could have went my entire career and never won that.
It's like chasing a unicorn for some people.
- [Terzis] Making sure each customer's experience is everything they hoped for while honoring a legacy forged upon 14 decades of service.
For "Caroline Impact," I'm Jason Terzis reporting.