John Henry Fairbank

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John Henry Fairbank

John Henry Fairbank (1831 in Rouses Point, New York – February 1914 in Petrolia, Ontario) was variously a surveyor, oilman, inventor, banker, politician and fire chief in Lambton County, Ontario.


Surveying for the Grand Trunk Railway through Lambton County, Fairbank was contracted in 1858 to survey a local property and decided to buy one himself.

In 1862 Fairbank dug a successful oil well on land in Enniskillen, Ontario Township that he bought from James Miller Williams for ten dollars. Still operating today, Fairbank Oil Properties Ltd. is the oldest oil company in the world[1] and the original property is included in the First Commercial Oil Field National Historic Site of Canada.[2]

After his successful discovery in 1862 Fairbank invented the Jerker-line pumping system, allowing as many as ninety wells to operate off a single steam boiler. This system was so successful that it was spread to Pennsylvania and then worldwide. [3][4][5]

In 1865, Benjamin Van Tuyl and Fairbank together opened a liquor and grocery store which became known as Van Tuyl and Fairbank Hardware.[6] The next year he organized the local producers to build a railway spur, connecting their wells to outside markets via Wyoming, Ontario.

In 1869 he and Leonard Vaugh established Petrolia's first bank, the Little Red Bank, which became part of the Crown Savings and Loan Company in 1872.

In 1873, Fairbank formed the Home Oil Company with James Williams and was its president. Home built and operated a local refinery until 1881.

He continued to expand his oil business, becoming the largest producer in Canada by 1880. Ultimately, Standard Oil's affiliate, the Bushnell Company acquired ownership of Fairbank, Rogers and Company in 1896.[7]

He was involved with John W. Sifton in building the Canadian Pacific Railway west from Lakehead.


Fairbank was three times elected as a reeve in Petrolia from 1868-1870, then was appointed as Fire Chief. He was elected as a federal Liberal opposition Member of Parliament in 1882, sitting in the 5th Canadian Parliament.


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