This Place in History: Fairbanks Scales

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ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’ we’re in St. Johnsbury at Fairbanks Scales with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society, Steve Perkins.

“Internationally known Fairbanks Scales. You’ve probably all seen one, but this is amazing technology that really helped build a community. So we’re going to go look at some of the earliest scales and learn all about them,” introduced Perkins.

“So we’re at the St. Johnsbury History and Heritage Center, in the scale room. We’re going to learn all about the Fairbanks Company and the scales and the family. Peggy Pearl, the Volunteer Director of the Center is here to enlighten us.”

“To my left is the wagon platform scale that really tells the greater story of St. Johnsbury. When the Fairbanks [family] came to St. J. in 1815, they set up shop down on the Sleepers River. And at that time they were manufacturing stoves, wagons. They didn’t hit upon the platform scale until they became the brokers for farmers raising hemp. This hemp was being managed by the Fairbanks brothers to be sold to make rope. What they had to do was take the loads of hemp out of the wagon, weight it and put it back in. Thaddeus Fairbanks, whose mind I don’t think ever slept, said there’s got to be a better way. And hence the platform scale, where the whole thing could be weighed and not handled two or three times,” said Pearl.

“Prior to this method, they were so labor intensive that even using the steelyard and using the whole wagon would be really cumbersome. The fact that you could have this, with the platform right even with the ground and with all this part of it down in and be able to just drive onto it, it saves so much time. And then you couple that with whatever he did to make this so accurate, it’s a win win,” added Pearl.

“So Amanda, what I love about this display of the scale is you can see the sensitivity of this. I’m just going to put my hand on it lightly and you see that bar move,” demonstrated Perkins.

“I don’t think Erastus or Thaddeus actually got what was going to happen. The thought was that there might be some towns that would buy this to weigh loads of hay. But, no. It just took off. This platform scale went on to any number of scales that would weigh a pill, a piece of paper or weigh a train. It made the Fairbanks’ very wealthy. And you can take this platform scale in my opinion and you can draw a road to the St. Johnsbury Academy, to the Athenaeum, to the Fairbanks Museum, and any number of things that happened in this town. They really put their money into the town and made it what it is today,” said Pearl.

“We are open year round. Right now we are in winter hours; Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday from 10 to 4. Then in June, July, August into September, we are open six days a week and closed only on Sunday,” concluded Pearl.

Fairbanks scales, still ‘weighing the world’. At ‘This Place in History’!

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

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

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