Fairbanks Scales in Costa Rica sent me on a side trip to Vermont, to one of the most long-lived American manufacturing companies.
The scales attracted Will Hobby’s attention in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. The steamship San Juan, carrying passengers from Panama to San Francisco in 1914, sent “mixed cargo” ashore and took on “hundreds of tons” of Costa Rica coffee. The exchange of goods took two full days, giving passengers plenty of time to explore this first port on their 28-day journey.
Today a large party landed. Most of them contented themselves with making a few purchases and spending the balance of the time eating, singing, and dancing at a native hotel. I excused myself and spent the day with infinitely more pleasure and profit wandering around and about, studying conditions social, commercial, and industrial.Will Hobby,, February 26, 1914
In the market place, Will noted tortoise-shell jewelry, “tropical fruits of unpronounceable names and indescribable taste.” That makes me wonder what he tasted; vendors quite likely offered samples. After seven years of work on the Panama Canal, Will certainly knew the more common tropical fruits.
He also noticed hardware imported from the States, dry goods from both the U.S. and England, Swift and Company hams “clothed in tight black suits” hanging from grocery store ceilings, and “Fairbanks Scales from Vermont.”
Fairbanks Company History
A hundred years later, I recognize the brand, Fairbanks, and check out the company history.
Fairbanks is one of the nation’s oldest industrial manufacturing companies. Brothers Thaddeus and Erastus Fairbanks began manufacturing a cast iron plow and a stove in 1823, in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. They weren’t satisfied with the accuracy of commercial scales, so they invented a more dependable type. In 1830, Thaddeus applied for a patent.
By 1897 (about the time Will Hobby finished high school), the company held 113 patents, produced 2000 models, and up to 10,000 custom models and weighing systems. By 1914, the factory occupied 40 buildings with over 20 acres of floor space.
Fairbanks Scales Today
Some manufacturing of Fairbanks Scales continues in St. Johnsbury, but a larger facility in Meridian, Mississippi produces products for heavy capacity weighing. Sales and service offices operate in most States and a number of foreign countries. Fairbanks scales are manufactured to weigh anything from a postage stamp to a train engine.
The Fascination of Side Trips
If I were to explore the Hobby letters and journal physically, I’d never end my journey because details like those scales in Puntarenas send me on irresistible Internet research side trips, like the above rambling into Vermont.