Colonel Fairleigh S. Dickinson

Photo by Ira L. Hill's Studio 

His Heritage and Character

"A word about Colonel [Fairleigh S.] Dickinson. He was a real gentleman of the old school, but a gay gentleman with a biting sense of humor. He had come to New Jersey from North Carolina on an old schooner as a cabin boy. The captain of the ship took a protective view of the young lad and saw to it that he got a job and went to night school. Later on in life the Colonel in turn took a protective view of the captain, established him in a comfortable home, and saw to it that his financial needs were met. Eventually Mr. Dickinson was to become an outstanding paper salesman, and he traveled all over the United States with a great trunk full of samples. He earned $25,000 a year, a fantastic sum in the Nineteenth Century. One day in a drug store he met a man by the name of Maxwell W. Becton, who was selling thermometers. His entire sample case was barely larger than an étui and contained three or four thermometers. They engaged in conversation and discovered that they both had been born in North Carolina, barely fifty miles from each other. Mr. Becton expressed the desire to go into the thermometer business for himself but lacked the money. Out of that chance encounter came the establishment of Becton, Dickinson and Company, which in time was to become one of the great industrial empires of the world. Barely had the company been organized in New York City than the Spanish-American War burst upon the scene. The new company soon outlived its quarters in Manhattan and moved to East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Colonel and Mr. Becton built homes opposite each other on Ridge Road in nearby Rutherford..." 

Honesty and Industry

"The Colonel ran the company on old-fashioned principles. He was meticulously fair in all his dealings. If there was an argument about a bill, he would pay it quickly and ask the complaining party to look over the matter and see if perhaps there was an error. For years he walked two and one-half miles from his home in Rutherford to the factory in East Rutherford. The tower of the factory he placed so that it can be seen from the exact center of the main street of Rutherford -- Park Avenue. He was precise in his speech. He was scrupulously fair to his employees and expectedly them to be equally fair in their production. He worked from an old-fashioned rolltop desk in the corner of the wide office of his factory, from which he could oversee all the administrative and office staff. Nearby, Mr. Becton had his rolltop desk. Nobody had a private office -- not even Ed Williams, who was his sales manager." 

At Work in His Seventies

In his seventies he still "spent the morning and early afternoon at his company. In mid-afternoon he would stop by at the Rutherford National Bank. At that time the national banks could print their own bills, and the Colonel's signature appeared on his bank's bills, since he was its president..." 

Sense of Humor

"In those early thirties it was possible to have some bills printed without the signature, which became legal tender when the president of the bank signed the bills in person. ... The Colonel is supposed to have had a few printed without his signature. Then when he might be in a restaurant with friends, he would pull out a twenty dollar bill and give it to the waiter. In those days you could get a good meal for four people and still get change from a twenty-dollar bill. As the waiter would start to move away, he would call him back and say, to the utter constrenation of his guests and the waiter, 'Wait a minute, I forgot to sign that bill.' At another time, he had attended a convention in Atlantic City and had had dinner in one of the great restaurants of the resort. He paid his bill with one of the Rutherford National Bank bills, this time fully signed. The cashier examined it with a quizzical look because, after all, it was slightly different from the usual bills. The Colonel told her not to worry and said, 'I make them myself. That's my signature on it.' The girl laughed nervously and gave him his change. The Colonel got into his car and his chauffeur drove him away. After some miles, he heard the siren of the State Police. He stopped and the police car moved up. The officer got out and began to question the Colonel. He wanted to know about the bills that the Colonel was making, while his wife, Grace, roared with laughter." 

Interest in the College

"When the college was a legal entity ... the Colonel would always stop by after the bank visit and was always interested in the mechanical details involved." 

Funding of the College

When asked by Dr. Samartino's father-in-law, Mr. Scaramelli, for finacial help for the new college, "the Colonel said, 'I'll tell you what, Louis; I'll match whatever you give.' This posed a dilemma. Mr. Scaramelli was in no position to give much. ... [He] could give only $15,000. [Dr. Samartino] said [he] would add $15,000 and then the Colonel would have to match $30,000. Thus with $60,000 Fairleigh Dickinson was started. ... From time to time he would send ... more checks, usually in amounts of about $10,000, to help ... out. In terms of today's colleges, these sums were miniscule. At the time, they were sizable." 

In-Kind Assistance 

 "At that time Becton, Dickinson & Comapny was not a public company and was owned almost entirely by Colonel Dickinson and Mr. Becton. It was therefore perfectly possible for them to lend ... a workman or two as construction problems arose. For instance, the walks we couldn't afford were built by Becton, Dickinson men. Our first library shelves were built by Becton, Dickinson carpenters and matched the shelves in the Colonel's home on Ridge Road."

His Eye

"The Colonel had a precise eye for architectural details. The first thing he did was to have a flagpole erected in front of the castle. It is perfectly placed and is still there." 

Choosing the Name of the New College 

"We didn't want to call [the new college] Rutherford, because it singled one community out of many. 'Boiling springs,' the old name of the area, was considered, but then we learned that there already existed a college by that name in South Carolina. The decision to use the name 'Dickinson' wasn't made until the Spring of 1942, principally because the Colonel was against it. But the State Board of Education turned it down, fearing that Dickinson Junior College ... might conflict with Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, one of the oldest colleges in America. And so in desperation we picked on the Colonel's first name, 'Fairleigh,' and came up with Fairleigh Dickinson. We had practically to bludgeon the Colonel into accepting the idea, but once the legal papers went through, he took quiet pride in having his name associated with the small but interesting educational development." 
   [From Peter Sammartino, 1972. Of Castles and Colleges, Notes toward an Autobiography. A. S. Barnes & Co., South Brunswick & New York. 189 pp.]

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