George Fabyan

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George Fabyan
Born(1867-03-15)15 March 1867
Died17 May 1936(1936-05-17) (aged 69)
Burial placeForest Hills Cemetery, Boston, Massachusetts
ResidenceFabyan Villa
Spouse(s)Nelle Wright (married 1887-1936)
  • George Fabyan (father)
  • Isabella Fabyan (mother)

"Colonel" George Fabyan (1867 – 1936) was a millionaire businessman who founded a private research laboratory.[1] Fabyan's laboratory pioneered modern cryptography, though its initial findings, supporting Fabyan's belief that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays, were later disproven by the cryptographers who trained there.

Early life[edit]

Born in Boston to George and Isabella Fabyan, the second child and eldest son of five children, he left home at age 17. Eventually ending up in Chicago, he ran the Chicago office of his tycoon-father's textile business Bliss, Fabyan & Co. from 1895 on. Inheritance from Bliss, Fabyan & Co. provided the financial foundation from which he and his wife, Nelle, established their legacy.

Illinois Governor Richard Yates appointed George Fabyan to his military guard in 1901, giving him the honorary title of Colonel, by which he was generally later known.[2]

In May 1909 Fabyan was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese government for his service to same. Fabyan had spent some time in Japan before 1905, developing relations with Japanese government and business representatives. He also was appointed as a liaison to General Kuroki Tamemoto during the Russo-Japanese peace negotiations (Treaty of Portsmouth) held in Maine in 1905. Between 1907 and 1910, he served as a host for General Kuroki, Baron Komura, and Prince Fushimi during their visits to Chicago.


He and his wife developed a 325 acre country estate in Geneva, Illinois, 40 miles west of Chicago, beginning with the purchase of 10 acres on the west bank of the Fox River.[3] "Riverbank", as they named their estate, featured among other things, a Japanese Garden, a private zoo, a Roman-style swimming pool, a lighthouse, gardens, grottoes, greenhouses, a farm and the research laboratory. They lived on their estate from 1908 to 1939 in a farmhouse remodeled by Frank Lloyd Wright, which they called the Fabyan Villa. This site also contained George's and Nelle's expansive private library and museum.[4]

In 1914 Fabyan purchased and had moved a Dutch-style windmill built c. 1870 from its original farm site in York Center, IL to his estate. Known as the Fabyan Windmill, this 5-story grist mill was restored to working order in 2004.[5]

Baconian theory[edit]

Newspaper report of the 1916 trial, Chicago Tribune, depicting (left to right) Fabyan, Tuthill, Shakespeare, Selig.

Fabyan supported the Baconian theory, which was popular at the time, that Shakespeare's plays were written by Francis Bacon. He established a cryptologic research group to study alleged ciphers in Shakespeare's work.[1][6] Known as Riverbank Laboratories, it was the first privately owned research facility in the United States.[7]

In 1916 William Nicholas Selig, a film producer, sued Fabyan on the grounds that profits from forthcoming films of Shakespeare's works, along with a film on the life of Shakespeare, would be damaged by Fabyan's claims that Bacon was the author.[8] On 9 March 1916, he obtained a temporary injunction stopping the publication of a book by Fabyan on the subject.[9] Selig was intending to capitalise on the celebrations organised for the upcoming 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, which occurred in April 1616. A Cook Country Circuit Court judge, Richard Tuthill, found against Shakespeare's authorship - he determined that the bi-literal ciphers identified by Fabyan's analyst Elizabeth Wells Gallup were authentic and that Francis Bacon was therefore the author of the works. Damages of $5,000 were awarded to Fabyan for the interference with the publication of the book.[10] In the ensuing uproar, Tuthill rescinded his decision on 2 May 1916,[11] and another judge, Frederick A. Smith, dismissed the ruling on 21 July 1916.[12][13] It was later suggested by the press that the case was concocted by both parties for publicity, since Selig and Fabyan were known to be old friends.[14][15]

Elizebeth Smith (later Elizebeth Friedman), a Shakespearean scholar, was employed by Fabyan to work with Gallup. Later, a geneticist employed by Fabyan, William Friedman, joined the effort, initially as a photographer, and then later drawn into the cryptography effort, such that he eventually became the head of the Codes & Ciphers department in Friedman's lab.[16] Both Elizebeth and William went on to have significant careers in cryptanalysis (a term coined by William), and their work became the foundation for what later became the NSA.[17] Decades after working for Fabyan, William and Elizebeth collaborated on a study to discredit the ciphers that Gallup claimed to have discovered. This book won the Folger Shakespeare Library Literary Prize of $1000 in 1955 for its definitive study that is considered to have disproven the claims of all researchers that the works of Shakespeare contain hidden ciphers that disclose Bacon's — or any other candidate's — secret authorship. The study was condensed and published in 1957 as The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined.[18]

World War I[edit]

The Friedmans played a significant role in World War I. Nearly all American military World War I cryptography was done at Fabyan's laboratories. In particular they uncovered a plot against the British by Indian nationalists supported by the Germans. The National Security Agency has recognized Riverbank Laboratories as the birthplace of U.S. cryptology, and honored Fabyan in 1992 with a plaque reading "To the Memory of George Fabyan From a Grateful Government: In recognition of the voluntary and confidential service rendered by Colonel Fabyan and his Riverbank Laboratories in the sensitive areas of cryptanalysis and cryptologic training during a critical time of national need on the eve of America's entry into World War I."[19][20]


  • Fabyan, George (1905). What I Know About the Future of Cotton and Domestic Goods. George Fabyan.


  1. ^ a b George Fabyan, Wealthy Eccentrics, CNN
  2. ^ The Fabyan Forest Preserve and Villa Museum,
  3. ^ Seigenthaler, Katherine (10 August 1987). "Out Of Success Came Legends Of Col. Fabyan". The Chicago Tribune.
  4. ^ "Riverbank Labs". Geneva, Illinois U.S.A.: City of Geneva. Archived from the original on 2009-07-27.
  5. ^ Fabyan WIndmill, Kane County Forest Preserve District
  6. ^ Cryptologic Almanac, National Security Agency
  7. ^ Riverbank Labs Archived 2009-07-27 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Niederkorn, William S. (Fall 2004). "Jumping o'er times : the importance of lawyers and judges in the controversy over the identity of Shakespeare, as reflected in the pages of the New York Times". Tennessee Law Review. Tennessee Law Review Association. 72 (1): 82–85. ISSN 0040-3288.
  9. ^ Staff Writer (10 March 1916). "Shakespeare is Probably Worrying a Lot Over This". The Day Book. Chicago, Illinois – via
  10. ^ McMichael, George L.; Glenn, Edgar M. (1962). Shakespeare and His Rivals: A Casebook on the Authorship Controversy. Odyssey Press. p. 99.
  11. ^ Staff Writer (3 May 1916). "Tuthill Rescinds Shakespeare Edict". The New York Times – via
  12. ^ Staff Writer (21 July 2016). "Chicago Judge Rules Out Bacon-Shakespeare Suit". Pittsburgh Daily Post. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – via
  13. ^ Wadsworth, Frank W. (1958). The Poacher from Stratford: A Partial Account of the Controversy Over the Authorship of Shakespeare's Plays. University of California Press. pp. 74–75.
  14. ^ Rose Sheldon, The Friedman Collection: An Analytical Guide, item 1365.
  15. ^ Bentley, Richard (February 1959). "Elizabethan Whodunnit: Who was William Shake-Speare?". American Bar Association Journal. 45 (2): 203. JSTOR 25720659.
  16. ^ Gilbert, James L.; Finnegan, John P., eds. (1993), U.S. Army Signals Intelligence In World War II: A Documentary History (PDF), United States Army Center of Military History, p. 18, CMH Pub 70-43
  17. ^ Jason Fagone (26 September 2017). The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-243050-2.
  18. ^ Friedman, William F.; Friedman, Elizebeth S. (1957). The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined: An Analysis of Cryptographic Systems Used As Evidence That Some Author Other Than William Shakespeare Wrote the Plays Commonly Attributed to Him. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. OCLC 718233.
  19. ^ Shawn Rosenheim (1997). The Cryptographic Imagination: Secret Writing from Edgar Allan Poe to the Internet. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 236. ISBN 978-0-8018-5331-9.
  20. ^ Laukaitis, John J. (2004). Geneva in Vintage Postcards. Arcadia Publishing. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-7385-3347-6.

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