This Place in History: Howe Scales

Local News

BRANDON & RUTLAND, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in Brandon with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We’re standing outside what’s now called the Howe Block in Brandon. It was named after the Howe Scale Company, made by the Brandon Manufacturing Company, a really big employer here in Brandon, that become internationally-known for their scales and their great innovation on scales. Ultimately, the company moved to Rutland. So we’re going to head down the road a bit and learn more about this company,” began Perkins.

“Howe Scales made all kinds of scales for weighing airplanes, grain bags, newborn babies, trains and trucks. They developed a beam that had a sharp edge on it. They rotated the lever on that so that there was no friction and they could get an accurate measurement. And they had levers that they developed and transferred the weights up to a dial, like a ruler. It was the most accurate scale in the world at the time. They were built in the 1800s,” explained Howe Center owner and Rutland businessman Joseph Giancola.

“You’ve got a doctor’s scale right here and a grocery store scale. You have a scale here that was used for higher precision stuff in manufacturing. They developed a plant in Brandon and made scales there for about 30 years. A few businessmen from Rutland went to Brandon to see if they could purchase the company and move it to Rutland. Negotiations lasted about a year and the town voted down putting up the money to keep the scaleworks in Brandon. It moved to Rutland in about 1870. Brandon’s taken about 100 years to recover from that move, but Brandon is coming back now,” said Giancola.

“In Brandon, they had lots of great water power from the falls on the Neshobe into the Otter, but there was no rail connection. What did they gain here in Rutland?” asked Perkins.

“The rail connection was the thing. So when you put these scales together, they weighed a lot and they were shipping all over the world, all over the country. They did it by rail back then. Rail was the way you transported stuff. The railroad tracks came right through this complex, all the way and through the buildings, where the foundry and scrap iron was. Plus, being on both sides,” demonstrated Giancola.

“It’s my understanding that the scales were so famous, they showed at the Great Paris World’s Fair when the Eiffel Tower was unveiled.  And their big competitor Fairbanks was there as well,” said Perkins.

“Fairbanks Morse and Howe were big competitors. They were so competitive that I’m not sure they even talked to each other sometimes,” supposed Giancola.

“Both companies had scales set up at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, but Howe’s was the one that was working. President Grant came and was weighed with the Howe scale, but not on the Fairbanks scale,” explained Perkins.

“That was a coup for Rutland,” exclained Giancola. 

“They went out of business in 1982. What were the contributing factors for the decline?” asked Perkins.

“The market changed. They got bought out by a bunch of different corporations. They didn’t advance the technology. There was no research and development to stay ahead. They lost a lot of business to other competitors,” concluded Giancola.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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