Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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FAIRBANKS, Erastus, manufacturer, born in Brimfield, Massachusetts, 28 October 1792; died 24 November 1864. He was fifth in descent from Jonathan Fairbanks, who came from England and settled in Dedham, Massachusetts, in 1633. The old Fairbanks house in Dedham, built by Jonathan's brother John, and still in possession of the family, is represented in the accompanying illustration. Erastus began to study law, but gave it up on account of an affection of the eyes, and engaged in trade in various places, finally removing to St. Johnsbury, Vermont. He formed a partnership with his brother Thaddeus in 1824, and began the manufacture of cast-iron plows and stove castings. In 1826 the firm, with several others, formed the St. Johnsbury hemp dressing company, and in 1831 the brothers gave their entire attention to making the platform scales invented by Thaddeus. Erastus remained at the head of the firm till his death. He was a member of the legislature in 1836'8, president of the Passumpsic railroad company in 1849, and was elected governor of Vermont in 1851 and 1860, rendering efficient aid to the government in the early days of the civil war.
His brother, Thaddens Fairbanks, inventor, born in Brimfield, Massachusetts, 17 January 1796; died in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, 12 April 1886, removed with his father in 1815 to St. Johnsbury, Vermont, and aided him in a saw and gristmill, also making carriages. He had an aptitude for mechanics, and in 1826, while engaged in the business of dressing hemp, observed the rudeness of the methods in use for weighing it. The result was the invention of his platform scale, for which he received a patent on 21 June 1831. Platform scales were not unknown before that time, but had been little used. The most essential improvements invented by Mr. Fairbanks were the employment of only two levers, and the use of knife-edge bearings, resting on plane polished steel surfaces. Other improvements, covered by about fifty patents, were afterward made, and the Fairbanks scales are now used in all parts of the world. It has been estimated that they weigh a million million pounds a week. The scales have received medals at eight international exhibitions, and Thaddeus Fairbanks received in 1873, from the emperor of Austria, the cross of the order of Francis Joseph.
Another brother, Joseph Paddock Fairbanks, born in Brimfield, Massachusetts, 26 November 1806 ; died 15 May 1855, studied law, but became a member of the firm in 1834, and took charge of the introduction of the scales into general use.
Erastus's son, Horace Fairbanks, born in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, 21 March 1820, succeeded his father as manager of the firm, and on the organization of the Fairbanks Scale Company, 24 November 1874, became its president. He has served as state senator, and in 1876 was elected governor of Vermont.
Another son, Franklin Fairbanks, born 18 June 1828, has contributed several inventions toward perfecting the scales, and has also patented modifications of the special machinery used in their manufacture. He was a member of the Vermont legislature in 1871'2, and was speaker of the house.
Thaddeus's only son, Henry Fairbanks, born in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, 6 May 1830, was graduated at Dartmouth in 1853, and at Andover theological seminary in 1857. He was ordained in 1858, held pastorates in Burke and Barnet, Vermont, and in 1859 became professor of natural philosophy at Dartmouth. He exchanged this chair for that of natural history in 1865, and since 1868 has resided in St. Johnsbury, giving his time to mechanical experiments. He has patented several inventions relating to the manufacture of scales and to other industries. He has been a member of the board of trustees of Dartmouth College since 1870.
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