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Fairbanks Morse and Company was an American manufacturing company in the late 19th and early 20th century. Originally a weighing scale manufacturer, it later diversified into pumps, engines, windmills, coffee grinders, feed mills, locomotives and industrial supplies until it was merged in 1958. It used the trade name Fairbanks-Morse.
There are three separate corporate entities that could be considered successors to the company, none of which represent a complete and direct descendant of the original company. All claim the heritage of the Fairbanks Morse and Company:
- Fairbanks Scales is a privately owned company in Kansas City, Missouri, that manufactures the scales.
- Fairbanks Morse Engine (FME), a subsidiary of EnPro Industries, is a company based in Beloit, Wisconsin, that manufactures and services engines.
- Fairbanks Morse Pumps is a part of Pentair Water in Kansas City, Kansas, and manufactures pumps.
Founding and early history
Fairbanks Morse and Company began in 1823 when inventor Thaddeus Fairbanks opened 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 a hemp dressing business for which he built the machinery. Though unsuccessful in fabricating for fiber factories, another invention by Thaddeus, the platform scale, formed the basis for a 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. It became the leading manufacturer in the US, and the best-known company the world over until Henry Ford and the Ford Corporation assumed this title in the 1920s.
In Wisconsin, L. Wheeler designed a durable windmill for pumping water, the Eclipse windmill. Wheeler set up shop in Beloit just after the Civil War. Soon half a million windmills dotted the landscape throughout the West and as far away as Australia. At about the same time, a Fairbanks & Company employee, Charles Hosmer Morse, opened a Fairbanks office in Chicago, from which he expanded the company's territory of operation and widened its product line. As part of this expansion, Morse brought Wheeler and his Eclipse Windmill pumps into business with the Fairbanks company. Morse later became a partner in the Fairbanks Company and by the end of the nineteenth century, it was known as Fairbanks Morse & Company and was headquartered in Chicago. Canadian and American cities had branch dealerships, with Fairbanks first coming to Montreal, Canada, in 1876 and later opening 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. Its 1910 catalog was over 800 pages. The Company began producing oil and naptha engines in the 1890s. The Fairbanks Morse gas engine was a success with farmers. Irrigation, electricity generation, and oilfield work also benefited from these engines. Small lighting plants built by the company were popular. Fairbanks Morse powerplants 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 (15 kW). 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 Morse 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 (150 kW). 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 marine engines were used in the Philippine Islands to power ferry boats) and the mill model E, a modernized Y diesel. During WWI, a large order of 60 30 H.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.
Seagoing diesel engines
Prior to the Second World War Fairbanks-Morse developed a marine engine using an unusual opposed piston design. This engine was delivered to the U.S. Navy in large numbers, often for use in fleet submarines. Fairbanks-Morse ranked 60th among United States corporations in the value of World War II military production contracts. The US Navy has had Fairbanks-Morse diesels in operation on its submarines almost continuously since 1938. They are in use on Los Angeles and Ohio-class SSBN/GNs and Seawolf-class fast attack boats. In addition to O.P. engines (used in the USCGC Hamilton class), Fairbanks-Morse license builds Pielstick (used in the USS Whidbey Island class and USS San Antonio LPD class), Alco (used in the USCGC Polar Sea), and M.A.N. design engines.
Shortly after it won its first US Navy contract, the company produced a 300 hp 5 x 6 engine that saw limited use in railcar applications on the B&O, Milwaukee Road, and a few other lines. Two of the 5 x 6s were placed in an experimental center-cab switcher locomotive being developed by the Reading Railroad (road #87, built in 1939 by the St. Louis Car Company, or SLCC, and scrapped in 1953). A 5 x 6 powered the plant switcher at F-M's plant.
In 1939 the SLCC placed F-M 800 hp 8 x 10 engines in six streamlined railcars, known as the FM OP800. In 1944 F-M began production of its own 1,000 hp (750 kW) yard switcher, the H-10-44. Milwaukee Road #760 (originally delivered as #1802), the first Fairbanks Morse locomotive constructed in their own plant, is now preserved in operating condition at the Illinois Railway Museum. Fairbanks Morse and Company, like other locomotive producers, was subject to wartime restrictions regarding the number and type of railroad related products it could manufacture. After World War II, North American railways began phasing out their aging steam locomotives and sought to replace them with diesel locomotives. Fairbanks Morse and its competitors sought to capitalize on this. The Virginian Railway was an early advocate of Fairbanks Morse power, buying this company's products rather than those of other manufacturers such as EMD or Baldwin.
In December 1945, Fairbanks Morse and Company produced its first streamlined cab-equipped dual service diesel locomotive as direct competition to such models as the ALCO PA and EMD E-unit. Assembly of the 2,000 hp (1,500 kW) unit, which was mounted on an A1A-A1A wheelset, was subcontracted to General Electric because of a lack of space at Fairbanks Morse and Company's Wisconsin plant. GE built the locomotives at its Erie, Pennsylvania facility, thereby giving rise to the name "Erie-built". Fairbanks Morse and Company retained the services of industrial designer Raymond Loewy to create a visually impressive carbody for the Erie-built. The line was only moderately successful. A total of 82 cab and 28 cabless booster units was sold through 1949, when production ended. The Erie-built's successor was manufactured in Beloit and designed from the ground up. The result was the Consolidated line, or "C-liner" (one of the company's best-known products), which debuted in January 1950.
Orders for C-liners were initially received from the New York Central, followed by the Long Island Rail Road, the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Milwaukee Road and the New Haven. F-M design locomotives were also produced under license in Canada by the Canadian Locomotive Company. Orders to the CLC were also forthcoming in Canada from the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railways. Accounts of mechanical unreliability and poor technical support began to emerge. It became apparent that the 2,400 h.p. Westinghouse generators were prone to failure, and the F-M prime movers suffered from short piston life and proved difficult to maintain. Moreover, railroads were quickly moving away from the cab unit type, and standardizing on road-switcher designs, as offered by the competition in the form of the EMD GP7 or the ALCO RS-3.
By 1952, orders had dried up in the United States and the production run was only 99 units, although they were more popular in Canada, particularly with the CP, and orders continued there until 1955. Several variants were only produced by the Canadian Locomotive Company, and Canadian roads received 66 units. Westinghouse had announced in 1953 that it was leaving the locomotive equipment market, partly due to the F-M generator problems. This made continuing production of the C-liners impractical without a redesign, and since marketplace acceptance was marginal, production was ended.
Fairbanks Morse continued to produce their road-switcher designs, including the Train Master series, but these met limited success in the marketplace. Financial problems resulting from an inter-family feud among the owner weakened the company, and this, combined with stiff competition from EMD products such as the F units, a declining market as the replacement of steam locomotives was at an end, and an expensive excursion into the development of a high-speed passenger train (P12-42), led F-M to exit the railway locomotive market. Fairbanks sold its last locomotive in the US in 1958, and shipped its final unit to Mexico in 1963. The CLC was renamed "Fairbanks-Morse Canada" in 1965, and closed in 1969 after a strike.
Post-war 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 Janeiro and Buenos Aires; a factory was opened in Mexico, where model Z engines were built well into the 1970s. 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 windmill pumps 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 Morse 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 between the sons of Charles Morse weakened the company. Consequently, Fairbanks-Morse was merged with Penn-Western 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 inroads into Fairbanks-Morse's market share. Thus the company spiraled down, and was sold.
Fairbanks Morse and Company merged with Penn-Texas Corporation in 1958 to form Fairbanks Whitney Corporation. Fairbanks Whitney was reorganized as Colt Industries in 1964, taking the name from Colt Manufacturing, the maker of firearms and an asset of Penn-Texas. In 1988 the Fairbanks Morse Pump division was sold off to private investors to become Fairbanks Morse Pump. It was subsequently purchased by Pentair as part of and acquisition of General Signal Pump Group in 1997. In 1988 the scale business was sold off by Colt Industries and became Fairbanks Scales, still an independent company.
In 1990, Colt Industries sold its firearms business to C.F. Holdings Corp as Colt's Manufacturing Company, Inc. and became Coltec Industries. Coltec merged with BFGoodrich corporation in 1999 and retained the BFGoodrich name. In 2002, as part of a series of divestitures of non-aerospace divisions, BFGoodrich spun off its engineered industrial products division as EnPro Industries, Inc. and became Goodrich Corporation. EnPro is now the parent company of Fairbanks Morse Engine.
As a result, there are now three companies using either the Fairbanks or Fairbanks Morse trademarks, with lineage to the original Fairbanks Morse and Company. Fairbanks Scale and Fairbanks Morse Pump claim lineage back to E & T Fairbanks Company.
- Pinkpank, Jerry A (1973). The Second Diesel Spotter’s Guide. Kalmbach Books. p. 323. LCCN 66-22894 Check
- Jane’s Fighting Ships of World War II. Crescent Books (Random House). 1998. p. 290. ISBN 0517-67963-9.
- "Fairbanks-Morse Company". Marine Diesel Engines. Tugboat Enthusasts Society of the Americas. Retrieved 2013-03-03.
- Peck, Merton J. & Scherer, Frederic M. The Weapons Acquisition Process: An Economic Analysis (1962) Harvard Business School p.619
- "Fairbanks-Morse 38D8 Diesel Engine". PSRM Diesel Locomotives. Retrieved January 1, 2006.
- Pinkepank, Jerry A. (1973). The Second Diesel Spotter's Guide. Kalmbach Publishing Co., Milwaukee, WI. ISBN 0-89024-026-4.
- Wendel, C.H. (1993). Fairbanks Morse: 100 Years of Engine Technology (reprint). Stemgas Publishing Co., Lancaster, PA.
- Wendel, C.H. (1987). Power in the Past, Vol. 2; A History of Fairbanks-Morse and Co. (reprint). Stemgas Publishing Co., Lancaster, PA.
Media related to Fairbanks-Morse at Wikimedia Commons
- Fairbanks Morse Engine website
- Fairbanks Morse Nuclear website
- Fairbanks-Morse, 100 years of engine technologyobsolete