When still a young man, Isaac Babbitt produced the first of several inventions by which he became famous.
He had been apprenticed as a youth to a goldsmith in Taunton, Massachusetts, where he was born, and it was in this employment that he acquired an interest in metallurgy.
Hence, in 1824, when he was but twenty-five years old, he turned out the first Britannia ware that was produced in the United States. This metal is an alloy of copper, tin, and antimony; its successful production led the young man to further investigations with the same three substances, with the result that, in 1839, he produced a metal which, when used for machine bearings, was found to be far better than anything yet discovered at that time for reducing friction.
Mr. Babbitt received a grant from Congress for this invention, which is still widely used in mechanical operations and still carries the name babbitt or babbitt metal. There are also many housewives who are familiar with the soap, Babbitt soap, that he manufactured.
Isaac Babbitt did not furnish the model for the fictitious character, George Follansbee Babbitt, described by Sinclair Lewis in his novel, Babbitt. The latter name has also taken its place in the language as a descriptive term for a type of American businessman, ambitious and smugly satisfied with the outward show of prosperity, but totally lacking in culture and refinement.