Fairleigh Dickinson was not yet 30 years old when he put his surname on a nascent medical supplies company. More than a century later, that company, Becton Dickinson, is still vital and its cofounder’s full name, Fairleigh Dickinson, is one of the most familiar in New Jersey.
Dickinson grew up in North Carolina and worked for two years as a sailor on a square rigger before moving to New Jersey. Settling in Elizabeth, he attended high school at night and worked at the Singer Sewing Machine Company by day. He later worked for a manufacturing company in Saugerties, New York.
In 1895, Dickinson had a chance meeting with Maxwell Becton, a fellow North Carolina native who had cofounded a company that sold thermometers. The two hit it off and forged a partnership to sell medical thermometers and syringes. Soon, they built a plant in East Rutherford to manufacture their own thermometers. In time, their company expanded into other lines, including hypodermic needles; surgical, dental and veterinary instruments; blood-pressure machines; and stethoscopes. Today, Becton Dickinson is a publicly traded medical technology company based in Franklin Lakes with 2021 revenues exceeding $20 billion.
During World War I, Dickinson was inducted into the U.S. Army Reserve as a lieutenant colonel, and worked with the Army Medical Corps to supply surgical instruments. He later served on the War Department’s business council with the rank of colonel; during World War II, he was chairman of the medical and surgical committees for the medical departments of the Army and Navy.
In 1942, Dickinson helped found the college that bears his name; he was the largest contributor to its endowment fund. Originally a junior college based in Rutherford, Fairleigh Dickinson is now a four-year university, with two campuses in New Jersey, more than 100 degree programs and some 11,500 students worldwide.
Dickinson also served as president of the Rutherford National Back from 1927 until his death. Throughout his career, he served in leadership roles for surgical trade associations and Rutherford community organizations.