BABBITT, BABBITT METAL

A tin-based alloy, called babbitt metal, was invented by Isaac Babbitt in 1839. The metal, composed of a soft, silver-white alloy of copper, tin, and antimony, is widely used for bearings to reduce friction. For this invention, the United States Congress voted to grant Babbitt $20,000, a sum that enabled him to manufacture this alloy.
Isaac Babbitt (1799-1862) was born in Taunton, Massachusetts. Trained as a goldsmith, he made the first Britannia ware in America in 1824. He then took employment as a superintendent at the South Boston Iron Works and is credited with having helped make the first brass cannon in the United States.
The leading character in Sinclair Lewis’s novel Babbitt, published in 1922, was George F. Babbitt, a prosperous real estate agent in Zenith, a Western city. He was «nimble in the calling of selling houses for more than people could afford to pay» and was the prototype of the narrowminded, self-satisfied, materialistic, middle-class American. He represented the orthodox businessman with drives that laud his own middle-class existence and with no interest in cultural values. He placed great store on local esteem and outward prosperity. Babbitt was everything that the author hated about America. The word Babbitt now appears in American dictionaries to represent a person who unthinkingly conforms to group standards or a smug, schooled but uneducated businessman. Babbittry is middle-class conformity.
As the book closes, Babbitt’s son tells Babbitt of his intention to «get into mechanics» rather than go to the university. He also tells him that he has been secretly married. Babbitt, who with age has come to understand his parochial outlook and virtues, felt that the time had come to give his son advice based upon his own flawed experiences. Babbitt «crossed the floor, slowly, ponderously, seeming a little old. ‘I’ve always wanted you to have a college degree’. He meditatively stamped across the floor again. But I’ve never... I’ve never done a single thing I’ve wanted to do in my whole life! Well, maybe you’ll carry things further. I don’t know ... Don’t be scared of the family. No, not of Zenith. Not of yourself, the way I’ve been. Go ahead, old man! The world is yours!’»