Fairbanks-Morse, is a historic American (and Canadian) industrial weighing scale manufacturer. It later diversified into pumps, engines and industrial supplies. One arm is now diesel engine manufacturer located in Beloit, Wisconsin and has specialized in the manufacture of opposed piston diesel engines for Untied States Naval vessels and railroad locomotives since 1932. Fairbanks-Morse is currently owned by EnPro Industries, and now also manufactures a line of natural gas and dual-fuel powered engines and generators. Fairbanks-Morse Pump is a separate company in business in Kansas City, Kansas, while Fairbanks Scales is a separate privately owned company based in Kansas City, Missouri.
Founding and early history: Fairbanks, Morse & Company had its beginning in 1832 when inventor Thaddeus Fairbanks began an ironworks in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, to manufacture two of his patented inventions, a cast iron plow and a heating stove. In 1829 he started in a hemp dressing business for which he built the machinery. Though unsuccessful in fabrication for fiber factories, another invention by Thaddeus, the platform scale, formed the basis for the great enterprise. That device was patented in June 1832, and a generation later, the E & T Fairbanks & Company was selling thousands of scales; first in the United States, later in Europe, South America and even Imperial China. Scales were integral to business as marine and railway shippers charged by weight. Fairbanks scales won 63 medals over the years in international competition. Fairbanks was the leading manufacturer in the US-and the best known the world over- until Henry Ford stole that crown.
In Wisconsin, L. Wheeler designed a durable windmill for pumping water, the "Eclipse Windmill." Wheeler set up shop in Beloit just after the US Civil War. Soon half a ;million windmills dotted the landscape on farms throughout the West and as far away as Australia. At about the same time, Fairbanks & Co employee Charles Hosmer Morse opened an office of Fairbanks & Co in Chicago, from which he expanded the company's territory of operation and widened its product line. Included in this, Morse brought Wheeler and his Eclipse Windmill pumps into business with the Fairbanks Morse Company. As a result, Morse later became a partner and the firm subsequently was named Fairbanks-Morse & Company by the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Headquartered in Chicago, all Canadian and American cities had branch dealerships of Fairbanks-Morse. Fairbanks first came to Montreal, Canada in 1876 and later opened a factory there.
Market expansion into engines: In the late nineteenth century business expanded in the Western United States, as did the company's catalog. It grew to include typewriters, hand trucks, railway velocipedes, pumps, tractors and a variety of warehouse and bulk shipping tools. The company became an industrial supplier distributing complete "turn-key" systems: tools, plumbing, gauges, gaskets, parts, valves and pipe. Its1910 catalog was over 800 pages. The Company began producing oil and naptha engines in the 1890s (one-cylinder hot-tube engines). The Fairbanks-Morse gas engine was a success with farmers, and irrigation, electricity generation, and oilfield work also benefited from these engines. Small lighting plants built by the company were popular. Fairbanks-Morse power plants evolved by burning kerosene in 1893, coal gas in 1905, then to semi-diesel engines in 1913 and to full diesel engines in 1924. In 1914 the company began production of the Model Z single cylinder engine in one, three and six horsepower sizes. The Z was soon made in sizes up to 20 horsepower. Over a half million units were produced in the following 30 years. the model Z found favor with farmers, and the Model N was popular in stationary industrial applications. the Company also had brief forays into building automobiles, tractors, cranes, televisions, radios and refrigerators, but output was small in these fields. After the expiration of Rudolf Diesel's American license in 1912, Fairbanks entered the large engine business. the company's larger Model Y semi-diesel became a standard workhorse, and sugar, rice, timber and mine mills used the engine. The model Y was available in sizes from one through six cylinders, or 10 to 200 horsepower. The Y-VA engine was the first high compression, cold start, full diesel developed by Fairbanks-Morse without the acquisition of any foreign patent. This machine was developed in Beloit and introduced in 1924. The company expanded its line to the marine CO engine (many 100 H.P. Co engines were used in the Philippine Islands to power ferry boats) and the mill Model E, a modernized Y diesel. During WEI, a large order of sixty 30H.P. Co marine engines were installed in British decoy fishing ships to lure German submarines within range of their 6" naval guns. From this Fairbanks-Morse became a major engine manufacturer and developed plants for railway and marine applications. The development of the diesel locomotive, tug and ship in the 1930s fostered the expansion of the company. Many Fairbanks-Morse engines were ordered by the US Navy in the Second World War.
Railroad locomotives: Shortly after it won its first Navy contract, the company produced a 300 HP 5x6 engine that saw limited use in railcar applications on the B&O, Milwaukee Road, and a few other lines. Two of the 5x6s were placed in an experimental center=cab switcher locomotive being developed by the Reading Railroad. A 5x6 powered the plant switcher at Fairbank-Mores' plant.
Postwar Power Products: Fairbanks-Morse continued to build diesel and gas engines, as it had been doing for the first half of the twentieth century. This is in addition to the pump and engine division, which produced Canadian Fairbanks-Morse branded products for farms, factories and mines.
Export offices were established in Rio de Janerio and Buernos Aires; a factory was opened in Mexico. The model Z engines were built into the 1970s in Mexico. An Australian branch factory, similar to the Canadian Branch operation was opened and remote sheep stations benefited from their products. It dated from 1902, when Cooper Sheep Shearing Machinery Ltd was set up in Sydney and became an agent for Fairbanks-Morse in that Hemisphere.
The company sold and updated the Eclipse model of windpumps in North America until they became obsolete with widespread rural electrification in the 1940s. Low cost electricity from the grid eliminated the need for local power production by small and medium diesel plants. While many Fairbanks engines dutifully served into the late twentieth century, modernization, regional plant closures, and electricity were too much competition.
An inter-family feud for control of the company in 1956 weakened management: the sons of Charles Morse fought for ownership in the course. Consequently, in the US, Fairbanks-Morse became part of the Whitney Gun Machining Enterprise in 1958. The downhill slide continued for the next few decades, with assets being sold off and branches of the company closed. Regional sales offices were closed and the one-shop model no longer appealed to buyers in the new consumer age. Automakers, tractor makers and locomotive builders made in roads into Fairbanks-Morse's market share. Thus the company spiraled down, and was sold to other owners. The company was finally restructured in 1988, as F. Norden, a majority shareholder in the US Scale franchise, bought back the Fairbanks Scale business and its assets in Vermont, Missouri and Mississippi.