north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

      With the boll weevil taking its toll on North Carolina’s cotton industry, the Elizabeth City Oil and Fertilizer Company, incorporated to manufacture cottonseed oil and other cotton by-products, tried its hand at a new commodity on December 13, 1915. At that time, under the management of William Thomas Culpepper, the company crushed approximately 20,000 bushels of soybeans, generating the first commercially produced domestic soybean oil in the country. The manufacture of the soybean oil was completed without a single alteration in existing equipment. Both the oil and the residual “cake,” usually ground into meal, were highly marketable. Other oil mills, in towns such as Winterville, New Bern, Farmville, and Wilson, began working with soybean oil shortly thereafter. The advent of domestic soybean processing made the easily grown plant popular throughout North Carolina.

      The soybean was first planted in America in the late 1800s as forage for livestock. In 1904, George Washington Carver discovered that the soybean was a good source of protein and oil. He also learned, in experimenting with crop rotation, that planting soybeans for two years actually helped improve the soil conditions for later cotton crops. Following such research, soybean production increased. The plants flourish in North Carolina’s hot, humid summers, and as of 2002, the state ranks fifteenth in the nation in soybean yields. At the time of the first processing in Elizabeth City, North Carolina was the leading producer of the legume.

      The oil processing plant was located near the intersection of North Poindexter Street and East Ward and Kramer Streets in Elizabeth City. It is no longer standing.

Biennial Report of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, 1914-1916
United States Department of Agriculture, Yearbook (1917)
(Elizabeth City) The Advance, November 30 and December 17,
R. W. Judd and A. H. Probst, Soybeans: Improvement, Production, and Uses (1973)
North Carolina Soybean Producers Association website:
Location: County:

Original Date Cast:




north carolina highway historical marker program

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources