Who Was Fairleigh Dickinson? A Brief History of FDU's Namesake

This page offers a brief glimpse into the life and legacy of Fairleigh S. Dickinson Sr., a co-founder of medical technology company, BD (Becton, Dickinson & Co.), and early benefactor of Fairleigh Dickinson University. Read on to discover the stories and portraits of Fairleigh, his business partner, Maxwell Becton, and the University's founders, the Sammartino family.

August 2, 1866

Fairleigh Dickinson was born

Fairleigh Stanton Dickinson was born in Core Creek, N.C., to David Owen Dickinson and Margaret Tillman Dickinson. He was the oldest of four children. His father passed when Fairleigh was only nine years old.


Sailing Days

As a pre-teen, Fairleigh joined the crew of a merchant ship and sailed for five years, ranging from Boston, Mass., to Savannah, Ga.

1884 - 1889

Mechanical Interests

Fairleigh was hired as a mechanic's apprentice for the Singer Sewing Machine Company in Elizabeth, N.J. He attended night classes but developed an affinity for manufacturing and machinery on the job.

1889 - 1897

Baker Paper Co.

Working for the Baker Paper Company in New York, N.Y., Fairleigh went to Asbury Park, N.J., for a sales trip. He was very successful, impressing his boss who sent him farther across the country on his future trips.


Maxwell Becton

A chance encounter with Maxwell Becton in Texarkana, Texas, during simultaneous sales trips led to a business partnership which would endure the rest of their lives. It is said that while Fairleigh was eating in the bright railroad dining room, Maxwell came and drew the shades, sparking their first conversation. Fairleigh and Maxwell were both from North Carolina and shared the same birthday!

September 1897

The Birth of BD

Fairleigh and Maxwell founded Becton, Dickinson & Co. (BD) in New York, N.Y. The company imported medical devices from Europe, but eventually began to manufacture their own devices thanks to Fairleigh's experience with Singer. BD developed products like the ACE bandage and insulin syringes, serving the United States' war effort through both World Wars. Fairleigh was given the rank of Colonel as chairman of the Manufacturers Surgical Trade Association.

Maxwell W. Becton (left) and Fairleigh S. Dickinson Sr. (right) together at a picnic


The Sammartinos

Col. Fairleigh S. Dickinson invested $30K to inaugurate a two-year junior college on the site of Iviswold Castle in Rutherford, N.J. Peter Sammartino and his wife, Sylvia "Sally" Scaramelli, envisioned the school. They, along with Louis Scaramelli, came to Fairleigh about financial support.

In honor of their most generous benefactor, the Sammartinos named the school Fairleigh Dickinson Junior College. The class of 1944 (first graduating class) had 59 women and one man. Programs included nursing, broadcasting, business and public health.

Peter Sammartino (left) and Sylvia "Sally" Scaramelli (right), co-founders of FDU


Fairleigh Dickinson University

A four-year program was established and the school was renamed Fairleigh Dickinson College (and eventually, University). Col. Fairleigh S. Dickinson passed away on June 23, at the age of 81. BD was being run by the sons of Fairleigh and Maxwell, and the university was growing and thriving.

This page was created by Spencer Cowley, with a special thank you to Richard Kushnier for his personal effort in recounting the history of Fairleigh Dickinson, the man, and providing the photographs used. Rich was a BD employee for 22 years, has met multiple members of the Becton and Dickinson families and is now a member of the Florham Institute of Lifelong Learning (FILL) program at FDU.

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Photos courtesy of Richard Kushnier.