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Nissen Wagon Works

by Joshua McKaughan, 2006

The Nissen Wagon Works, located in Forsyth County, was one of the largest wagon makers in the South during the nineteenth century. In 1834 John Philip Nissen opened a wheelwright shop on Waughtown Hill, four miles south of the Moravian town of Salem. The son of a Broadbay farmer, the younger Nissen breathed new life into an industry that had withered among the Moravian settlements following the death of his Danish-born grandfather, wagon maker Tycho Nissen, in 1789. From 1834 through 1837 (when Salem wheelwright Ernst Henry Meinung expanded his small carriage-making business) Nissen, operating without competition, thrived by meeting the emigrants' need for wagons.

A Nissen wagon as shown in an advertisement that appeared in the Southern Tobacco Journal, 17 June 1919. Courtesy of North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh.By 1850 Nissen and his six employees were producing 65 wagons annually, far more than his competitors such as Meinung, whose six-man work force managed to turn out a mere 12 carriages on a yearly basis. The good years that followed found Nissen tripling the amount of capital invested in his business as he purchased steam- and horse-powered machinery to double his production capacity. Increased competition also accompanied the 1850s in the form of William E. Spach's nearby wagon works, which opened in 1854 and supplied wagons whose quality rivaled those made by Nissen. Together, the two firms would dominate Forsyth's wagon-making industry through the second half of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth. Following Nissen's death, his sons, George E. and William M. Nissen, assumed control of the business and guided it until 1925, when it was sold for nearly $1 million.


Chester Davis, "Locally Built Wagons Changed Face of the U.S.," Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel, 10 Apr. 1966.

Adelaide L. Fries, Stuart T. Wright, and J. Edwin Hendricks, eds., Forsyth: The History of a County on the March (rev. ed., 1976).

Additional Resources:

"Nissen Wagon Works." North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program. (accessed September 4, 2012).

"Nissen Wagon Works." Digital Forsyth. (accessed September 4, 2012).

Powell, Lew. "Winston-Salem’s profitable pairing: tobacco and wagons." North Carolina Miscellany (blog). July 27, 2011. (accessed September 4, 2012).

McMullan, Harry. "Corporation; Selling Name Of; Purchase Of Good Will [Nissen Wagon Company]" Biennial Report of the Attorney General of the State Of North Carolina 1946-1948 29. p. 47-48.,483418 (accessed September 4, 2012).

Image Credits:

A Nissen wagon as shown in an advertisement that appeared in the Southern Tobacco Journal, 17 June 1919. Courtesy of North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh.

Origin - location: 



I have a Nissan wagon made for TS Morrison in Asheville NC. The wood is weathered beyond use but all hardware is present. Would be great for black smith shop or museum


I am part of the new ownership of the Waughtown street site. We are considering a museum as part of the redevelopment of the site. Please reach out to discuss any information or artifacts you may have.


I assume you meant nissen* wagon. And I am very interested in this. I've been looking and frankly not finding much from my family's history. If you do decide to donate it to a museum, please let me know which one so I can have a look. Best wishes!


I have poster from origami store may be only one exist need u call go over everything with me at 276 821 8430 soon


Have letter about new factory with best wagons on wheels seal unbroken 1800s


I am the Co-Chair for an historic restoration project in Lewisville, N.C., the home of George Elias Nissen during the 1870's-1880's. We are searching for early documents connected with GEN. Could you let me know more about what the letter is that you refer to above?
Thanks for any help you can send.
Best, Susan Linker
Lewisville Historical Society

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