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Fairbanks, Erastus

FAIRBANKS, ERASTUS (1792-1864), American manufacturer, was born in Brimfield, Massachusetts, on the 28th of October 1792. He studied law but abandoned it for mercantile pursuits, finally settling in St Johnsbury, Vermont, where in 1824 he formed a partnership with his brother Thaddeus for the manufacture of stoves and ploughs. Subsequently the scales invented by Thaddeus were manufactured extensively. Erastus was a member of the state legislature in 1836-1838, and governor of Vermont in 1852-1853 and 1860-1861, during his second term rendering valuable aid in the equipment and despatch of troops in the early days of the Civil War. His son Horace (1820-1888) became president of E. & T. Fairbanks & Co. in 1874, and was governor of Vermont from 1876 to 1878.

His brother, Thaddeus Fairbanks (1796-1886), inventor, was born at Brimfield, Massachusetts, on the 17th of January 1796. He early manifested a genius for mechanics and designed the models from which he and his brother manufactured stoves and ploughs at St Johnsbury. In 1826 he patented a cast-iron plough which was extensively used. The growing of hemp was an important industry in the vicinity of St Johnsbury, and in 1831 Fairbanks invented a hemp-dressing machine. By the old contrivances then in use, the weighing of loads of hemp-straw was tedious and difficult, and in 1831 Fairbanks invented his famous compound-lever platform scale, which marked a great advance in the construction of machines for weighing bulky and heavy objects. He subsequently obtained more than fifty patents for improvements or innovations in scales and in machinery used in their manufacture, the last being granted on his ninetieth birthday. His firm, eventually known as E. & T. Fairbanks & Co., went into the manufacture of scales of all sizes, in which these inventions were utilized. He, with his brothers, Erastus and Joseph P., founded the St Johnsbury Academy. He died at St Johnsbury on the 12th of April 1886.

The latter's son Henry, born in 1830 at St Johnsbury, Vermont, graduated at Dartmouth College in 1853 and at Andover Theological Seminary in 1857, and was professor of natural philosophy at Dartmouth from 1859 to 1865 and of natural history from 1865 to 1868. In the following year he patented a grain-scale and thenceforth devoted himself to the scale manufacturing business of his family. Altogether he obtained more than thirty patents for mechanical devices.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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