Jane Phillips: Meet Maxwell Becton, entrepreneur
Three years after the Civil War on a hot summer day, Maxwell Wilbur Becton was born on the old Becton plantation to Jarman and Eliza Becton. He was one of five sons.
The home was in the Woodington community in the heart of Lenoir County. The farm family attended Woodington Methodist Church and that church was a major part of their lives.
Maxwell grew into a bright, inquisitive young man. He entered Rutherford College, a Methodist school in the foothills of North Carolina. The college burned down in 1888 and perhaps that is why after two years’ attendance, Maxwell moved to New York.
It was in New York that young Maxwell got a job as a salesman. His easy-going, kind, charming disposition and persuasive personality made him a natural for this line of work.
After three years, wanderlust took him all the way to Montana where he got involved in the real estate business.
By 1895, Maxwell had made his way back east and was living in Boston where he co-founded Randall and Becton, a company selling thermometers. It was on his travels around the country selling his product that Maxwell met Fairleigh S. Dickerson while in a restaurant in Texas. He noticed the sun was shining bright through the window right in the eyes of a gentleman sitting nearby. Being the kindly thoughtful person, he was, he rose from his seat and lowered the shade to block out the sun from the man’s vision.
The gentleman thanked him and conversation started between the two. They discovered both had been born in North Carolina, barely 50 miles apart and shared the same birthday. Little did they realize this chance meeting would lead to a lifetime venture and success beyond their dreams.
Becton and Dickinson became the best of friends. They formed a partnership first to sell medical thermometers and syringes. Then they built a manufacturing plant in East Rutherford, NJ., to produce thermometers.
The business grew and other items such as syringes and hypodermic needles were added. Expansion into new product lines in the early years came via acquisitions. They were makers of surgical, dental and veterinary instruments, and medical bags.
They developed the mercurial sphygmomanometer (an instrument for measuring blood pressure) as well as the binaural stethoscope. The company began making syringes designed specifically for insulin injection, marking the company's first foray into the diabetes care sector.
They developed a new American-made cotton elastic bandage. In 1918, the company conducted a contest among physicians to name the new bandage, out of which emerged the ACE bandage. ACE was an acronym for All Cotton Elastic.
Many other medical devices have been developed and manufactured by Becton-Dickerson. Throughout the early decades, the business built a reputation as a maker and marketer of products superior to those of its competitors. Through its product development and acquisitions the company kept pace with the latest advances in medical technology and standards.
In 1913, Maxwell married Valarie Prentiss of Rutherford, New Jersey. They had three children, Henry, Suzanne and Valerie. As the years passed, their son Henry grew up and played an important role in the development of his father’s company.
Maxwell and Fairleigh built their homes across the road from each other in Rutherford Their families were very close; both men were active in civic and professional organizations.
They brought a bank together in the 1920s and strengthened it. The bank withstood the Great Depression and today that bank is known as the National Community Bank of New Jersey.
Maxwell was very active in the Fairleigh Dickerson College serving on its Board of Trustees and in other capacities with the Maxwell Becton School of Arts and Science.
The first 50 Years of Becton-Dickerson brought conservative and steady growth. It was a family-run business with the sons of both men working for the company. The enterprise entered the affluent postwar years with a solid market share in medical supplies and was well prepared for a major expansion.
The company recognized that its traditional approach to business would not be appropriate for the future. It was in 1949 Maxwell’s and Fairleigh’s sons, Henry P. Becton and Fairleigh Dickinson, Jr., both astute businessmen, assumed managerial control of the company.
In 1943, Maxwell suffered a stroke and had to cut back his time working for a while. He passed away at his home in 1951 and is interred at Hillside Cemetery in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.
Today, Becton-Dickerson Company is a multinational American medical technology company that manufactures medical supplies, devices, laboratory equipment and diagnostic products. It is headquartered in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, with a team of approximately 30,000 employees in more than 50 countries worldwide.
Maxwell never forgot his roots and visited Kinston and the Woodington community with his family from time to time. During the Depression years, Maxwell gave a large sum of money in memory of his dear mother for the construction of a new building for the Woodington Methodist Church. He later purchased a Hammond electric organ for his home church. He was also known to make monetary donations from time to time.
The Becton-Dickerson Company exceeded the expectations of Maxwell W. Becton, the young man who once walked the streets of Kinston and roads of Lenoir County. His is truly an American success story.
The Heritage of Lenoir County
History of Woodington Methodist Church
Town of Rutherford College