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John Henry Fairbank


John Henry Fairbank was born in Rouse's Point, New York in 1831. Fairbank came from a long line of New England colonists and soldiers. In the 1850's, Fairbank traveled around Canada West on surveying jobs, and when returning to Niagara, he boarded at the farm home of Hermanus Crysler. Here he met Crysler's son, Abner, and his daughter, Edna. In September of 1855, Fairbank and Edna were married, and the Crysler's welcomed him into the family.


John loved farming, but he wanted a decent living, too. When he stumbled upon Oil Springs, it must have seemed like the saving grace in his life. By July 1861, he finished the survey job and borrowed $500 from his wife's father. After paying off current debts, he had $351 left and he put $30 down on a half-acre piece of land that he purchased for $300 from James Miller Williams. He paid out $150 to begin digging a well, and he hoped to spend another $100 on this project within a few days.


These early oil men dug a hole roughly six by six feet square and cribbed it with logs to a depth of 40 to 60 feet. Then they set up their spring pole rig and began to drill. Fairbank worked all that summer and fall on the digging because this had to be done before the ground froze.


Early in 1862, he struck oil. This first well, which he called "Old Fairbank", was often temperamental, yielding oil some of the time, and going dry some of the time. Mr. Fairbank clung tenaciously to his marriage and the oil business, although enormous difficulties and financial problems plagued him. Fairbank desperately wanted to be a producer, and, although he didn't like refining, he was a refiner by necessity. When "Old Fairbank" came in, he suddenly realized that there were new difficulties and expenses he had not dreamed of. He could not find barrels in which to store his oil, and when he did find them, they all leaked.


Career Summary:

  • 1861 Purchased his first "oilfield".
  • 1862 First struck oil in Oil Springs.
  • 1862 Invented the jerker-line system for pumping crude oil.
  • 1865 Started Van Tuyl and Fairbank Hardware.
  • 1869-1925 Financed the early oil industry through his private "Little Red Bank".


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