One of the greatest American stock car drivers of all time, Dale Earnhardt was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina. The son of Ralph Earnhardt, Dale continued the racing legacy, and it lives on today with his son, Dale Earnhardy, Jr., and the company Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI). Known as the Intimidator for his aggressive driving style, Earnhardt won seven NASCAR titles, rivaling fellow North Carolinian driver, Richard Petty.
A Jacksonian turned Whig politician, John Branch served as three terms as Governor of North Carolina and championed internal improvements in the Tar Heel State. He later held federal posts, including Secretary of Navy, Congressman, and territorial governor of Florida. After the scandalous Eaton Affair, a disenchanted Branch left the Democratic Party to help create a new Whig Party in North Carolina.
Born when North Carolina finally ratified the U.S. Constitution, Edward Dudley was the first governor elected by popular vote and the first Whig governor of the Old North State. His administration has received credit for awakening North Carolina from an economic slumber and encouraging it to embrace railroad construction and other internal improvements. The Onslow County native also was the executive of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad—“the longest continuous railroad,” writes historian Milton Ready, “in the world at that time.”
Known as the “longest continuous railroad bridge in the world,” the Norfolk and Southern Railroad Bridge cost $1 million to build and spanned 28,000 feet across the Albemarle Sound.
A one-term governor, Charles Manly was the last Whig to hold the office (1849-1851). He earned a reputation for maintaining his Whig predecessor’s initiatives. He is more famous for his debates with David Settle Reid during the 1848 gubernatorial campaign in which he disapproved of broadening manhood suffrage.
Lesser known than his Progressive predecessors, including Governor Charles B. Aycock, the “Little Giant of the West” nevertheless implemented significant conservation and transportation programs. Early in his political career, Locke Craig was a Populist who supported William Jennings Bryan’s presidential candidacies; however, the Buncombe countian soon worked to help the White Supremacy movement regain control of North Carolina, became a Democrat who served in the North Carolina House and lost the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. He became Governor of North Carolina in 1912.
The Piedmont & Northern (P&N) Railway fueled the growth of North Carolina’s textile industry. Running from Spartanburg to Greenwood in South Carolina and from Gastonia to Charlotte in North Carolina, the P&N shipped cotton, textiles, and other goods throughout the Piedmont region. But an ambitious plan to make the railroad a regional powerhouse was foiled by the federal government.
Gilbert S. Waters built one of the first buggymobiles. Born in 1869, Waters grew up in New Bern around the buggy industry and worked in the family business, G. H. Waters Buggy and Carriage Factory.
The buggymobile, a horse-less contraption that used a gasoline engine, was considered expensive and silly when it was first invented. It soon became, however, one of the most innovative and popular transportation devices.
John Owen served two, one-year terms as a North Carolina governor, after he had served in the House of Commons, as a state senator, and on the Council of State. He is known for being an advocate for primary public education and internal improvements and for warning against what he considered abolitionist attempts to spark civil unrest. He is the brother of James Owen, slaveowner of Omar Ibn Said, author of the only known American slave narrative written in Arabic.