Thaddeus Fairbanks

Thaddeus Fairbanks (January 17, 1796  April 12, 1886) was an American inventor. He was an inventor of heating and cook stoves, cast iron plows, and other items.[1] His greatest success was the invention and manufacture of the platform scale, which allowed the weighing of large objects accurately. He was a co-founder of St. Johnsbury Academy.[2]

Thaddeus Fairbanks
Born(1796-01-17)January 17, 1796
DiedApril 12, 1886(1886-04-12) (aged 90)
Resting placeSt. Johnsbury, Vermont
Known forFairbanks Scales
Spouse(s)Lucy Peck Barker (17981866)


Fairbanks was born in Brimfield, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1796, the son of Joseph Fairbanks (17631846) and Phebe (Paddock) Fairbanks (17601853).[2] His uncle was Ephraim Paddock, the brother of Phebe Paddock.[3] In 1815 he moved to St. Johnsbury, Vermont, and set up a wheelwright's shop above his father's gristmill.[4] In 1820 he married Lucy Peck Barker. In 1824 he built an iron foundry and his brother Erastus (later Governor of Vermont) joined him to establish E. and T. Fairbanks, a partnership to manufacture heating stoves, cast iron plows, and farm implements.[1] In 1826 he patented a cast-iron plough which was extensively used. [2]

In 1830 Fairbanks and Erastus became interested in the raising and processing of hemp. Fairbanks, being mechanically minded, made and patented a hemp and flax dressing machine at this time.[2] He became the manager of the St. Johnsbury Hemp Company. He also built a set of scales that would measure large loads of hemp accurately, as there were no sure scales at the time that would do this. Upon the success of building these scales his brothers recommended that he make and sell these as town scales.[5] Fairbanks obtained an agent to attempt this and remarked,

Fairbanks' most famous invention then became the platform scale for weighing heavy objects. These are commonly known as the Fairbanks Scales, for which he patented a design in 1830.[1] Before this time, accurate weighing of objects required hanging them from a balancing beam; as a result, particularly heavy or ungainly objects could not be weighed accurately. A platform scale, if large enough, could weigh an entire wagon. By placing a full wagon on the scale, unloading it, and then placing it on the scale when empty, it became possible to easily and accurately calculate the weight and value of farm produce and other loads. In 1834 Fairbanks and his brothers formed "E. and T. Fairbanks and Company" to manufacture and sell these platform scales.

These scales were well known in the United States and around the world. The company doubled in volume every three years from 1842 to 1857. There was a temporary slow down during the American Civil War, however the business took off again after the war. Their partnership was incorporated in 1874 into a firm known as "Fairbanks Scale Company" and sold on a large scale.[6]

These platform scales revolutionized weighing methods of large loads that has been in use ever since. Portable platform scales are found in almost every hardware store, physician's office, and manufacturing factory throughout the United States. The first railway track platform scale patent was granted to Fairbanks on January 13, 1857, as Patent No. 16,381. In 1916 the company was purchased by Fairbanks, Morse and Company. Ownership of the company has since changed several times, but Fairbanks Scales continue to be made in St. Johnsbury to this day.

Fairbanks received 43 patents in his lifetime with the last one at the age 91. He died on April 12, 1886, and is buried at St. Johnsbury, Vermont, at the Mount Pleasant Cemetery.[6]


In 1826 Fairbanks received a patent on a cast iron plow and a refrigerator. In 1830 he received his patent on the platform scale known as the Fairbanks Scales. The Fairbanks family was involved in numerous charitable and civic endeavors throughout St. Johnsbury and the surrounding towns, including the 1842 founding of St. Johnsbury Academy.[7]

A painting of Thaddeus Fairbanks can be seen in the lobby of Colby Hall at St. Johnsbury Academy.

Fairbanks received many foreign awards. He was even knighted by the Emperor of Austria and received honors from the Bey of Tunis, and King of Siam.[4]


  1. "Vermont Historical Society Library Fairbanks Papers, 18151889, Doc 15, Doc 95". Archived from the original on 2008-01-08. Retrieved 2008-11-07.
  2. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Fairbanks, Erastus s.v. Thaddeus Fairbanks" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 130.
  3. Childs, Hamilton (1887). Gazetteer of Caledonia and Essex Counties, Vt. 1764-1887. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Journal Company. p. 84.
  4. Duffy, p. 119
  5. Ullery, Men of Vermont: Illustrated Biographical History of Vermonters & Sons of Vermont. Brattleboro: Transcript Publishing Company, 1894, pp 129133.
  6. Ingham, p. 360
  7. "Our History". St. Johnsbury, VT: St. Johnsbury Academy. Retrieved April 5, 2018.


  • Duffy, John J., The Vermont Encyclopedia, UPNE, 2003, ISBN 1-58465-086-9
  • Ingham, John N., Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders: Vol. 2, HM, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1983, ISBN 0-313-23907-X
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