Henry Clay Frick Biography


Birthday: December 19, 1849 (Sagittarius)

Born In: West Overton, Pennsylvania, United States

Henry Clay Frick was an American business owner, investor, art connoisseur, and anti-unionist. He established the H. C. Frick & Company coke manufacturing company, served as chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company, and was instrumental in the creation of the colossal U.S. Steel manufacturing concern. He also built the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Reading Company and owned a significant amount of real estate in Pittsburgh and throughout the state of Pennsylvania. Later, he financed the construction of the historic neoclassical Frick Mansion (at present, a landmark building in Manhattan). After his death, his exceptional collection of old master paintings and fine furniture were used to establish the celebrated Frick Collection and art museum. However, being one of the founders and active members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, he shared the responsibility for the changes made to the South Fork Dam that resulted in its failure, which in turn was the reason for the destructive Johnstown Flood. Throughout his life, Frick had been a vocal critic of unions and resorted to violent methods to deal with them. In 1892, he was involved in the incidents surrounding the Homestead Strike.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 69


Spouse/Ex-: Adelaide Howard Childs Frick

father: John W. Frick

mother: Elizabeth Overholt

children: Childs Frick, Helen Clay Frick, Henry Clay Frick Jr., Martha Howard Frick

Born Country: United States

American Men American Entrepreneurs

Died on: December 2, 1919

place of death: New York, New York, United States

U.S. State: Pennsylvania

Notable Alumni: Otterbein University

Ancestry: Swiss American

Cause of Death: Heart Attack

Founder/Co-Founder: Frick Collection, South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club

More Facts

education: Otterbein University

  • 1

    What was Henry Clay Frick's role in the Homestead Strike?

    Henry Clay Frick was a key figure in the Homestead Strike of 1892, where he played a central role in the labor dispute between the Carnegie Steel Company and the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers.
  • 2

    How did Henry Clay Frick accumulate his wealth?

    Henry Clay Frick amassed his wealth through his career in the steel industry, particularly through his partnership with Andrew Carnegie in the Carnegie Steel Company.
  • 3

    What was Henry Clay Frick's impact on the industrial landscape of America?

    Henry Clay Frick played a significant role in shaping the industrial landscape of America through his involvement in the steel industry, contributing to the growth of the industry and the economy.
  • 4

    What was Henry Clay Frick's relationship with Andrew Carnegie?

    Henry Clay Frick had a complex relationship with Andrew Carnegie, with the two men initially working together to build the Carnegie Steel Company but later facing tensions and disagreements that led to their partnership ending.
  • 5

    What was the significance of Henry Clay Frick's art collection?

    Henry Clay Frick's art collection, housed in the Frick Collection in New York City, is significant for its impressive range of European art and its role in preserving and showcasing cultural heritage.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on December 19, 1849, in West Overton, Pennsylvania, USA, Henry Clay Frick was the son of Elizabeth Overholt and John W. Frick. He had brothers named Jay Edgar and Aaron, and sisters named Maria, Anna, and Sarah. His father was also a businessman, but most of his ventures ended in failure.
Henry Clay Frick studied at Otterbein College for about a year but dropped out before graduation. In 1871, when he was 21 years old, Frick, two of his cousins, and a friend set up a business together.
With a beehive oven, they transformed coal to coke, which was then utilized in the steel industry. He expressed his desire to become a millionaire by the time he turned 30. The company was named Frick Coke Company.
Borrowing money from the family of a lifelong friend Andrew W. Mellon, he purchased all the shares of his partners by 1880 and gave the company a new name, H. C. Frick & Company. It had 1,000 employees and dealt with 80% of the total coal output in Pennsylvania.
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Career & Later Life
In 1881, while Henry Clay Frick was on his honeymoon in New York City, he became acquainted with Andrew Carnegie. Later, their companies, H. C. Frick & Company and Carnegie Steel Company, formed a partnership, which eventually led to the creation of United States Steel.
This partnership helped Carnegie’s steel mills secure an adequate amount of coke. Frick subsequently was made the chairman of the company. In the ensuing years, Carnegie tried multiple times to oust Frick from the company by leading people to believe that the company had no future and that Frick had to go.
Although Henry Clay Frick helped Carnegie acquire a significant portion of his fortune, Carnegie ignored him while undertaking various executive commitments.
Henry Clay Frick was one of the co-founders of the exclusive South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, located high above Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Some of the other members of the club were Benjamin Ruff, T. H. Sweat, Charles J. Clarke, Thomas Clark, Walter F. Fundenberg, Howard Hartley, Henry C. Yeager, J. B. White, C. A. Carpenter, W. L. Dunn, W. L. McClintock, and A. V. Holmes.
Frick’s best friend Andrew Mellon, his attorneys Philander Knox and James Hay Reed, and his occasional business partner Carnegie were also part of the group.
The club members made insufficient renovations to what was the largest earthen dam in the world at the time, the South Fork Dam, situated on the south fork of the Little Conemaugh River.
On May 31, 1889, following several days of heavy rainfall, the dam had a catastrophic failure that resulted in the release of 14.55 million cubic meters of water. About 2,200 people were killed in the Johnstown Flood, and property worth $17 million (in 2018 about $474 million) was damaged.
Not long after the flood, The American Society of Civil Engineers began an investigation on the matter. However, the findings were published late, overturned, and undergone a cover-up. It was ultimately published two years after the disaster.
In 2018, an in-depth analysis of what had transpired during the ASCE investigation, the engineers who took part in it, and the science behind the 1889 flood was released.
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In 1881, Henry Clay Frick, who was already an accomplished businessman at the time, began running Old Overholt, a whiskey brand that originally belonged to his maternal grandfather, Abraham Overholt. Frick owned one-third of the company. The other two portions were owned by Andrew Mellon and Charles W. Mauck. Old Overholt set up its new headquarter in Pittsburgh's Frick Building.
In 1907, when prohibition was becoming the norm across the country, Frick and Mellon took their names off from the distilling license. After Frick’s death, Mellon inherited his shares.
Frick and Carnegie’s professional relationship suffered a serious blow over the steps taken in the face of the Homestead Steel Strike, a labour strike organised by the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers at the Homestead Works of the Carnegie Steel Company in 1892. The protesting workers, several of whom had weapons, shut the company staff out of Homestead and placed pickets around it.
Henry Clay Frick had garnered notoriety for his anti-union policy, and while the talks to end the strike were still ongoing, he built a solid board fence topped with barbed wire around the mill property. The workers named the newly fortified mill ‘Fort Frick’.
Frick hired Pinkerton agents to storm the compound held by the striking workers. The attack took place on the night of July 5, 1892. The men from Pinkerton were armed with Winchester rifles. In the ensuing violence, ten people were killed and seventy suffered various degrees of injuries.
The Pinkerton agents failed to take control of Homestead, and the violence ultimately stopped due to the intervention of the state militia. Frick was severely criticised for his actions by the working-class Americans and faced several other union-led protests in the following years.
While the Homestead strike was taking place, on July 23, 1892, Frick was shot and stabbed by anarchist Alexander Berkman at his office in downtown Pittsburgh. However, he made a speedy recovery and returned to work in a week. Berkman was arrested, tried and given a 22-year prison sentence.
On October 19, 1917, Henry Clay Frick was made an honorary member of the Alpha chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity at the New England Conservatory of Music.
Family & Personal Life
On December 15, 1881, Frick exchanged wedding vows with Adelaide Howard Childs of Pittsburgh. She bore him four children: Childs Frick (born 1883), Martha Howard Frick (1885), Helen Clay Frick (1888), and Henry Clay Frick, Jr. (1892).
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At some point after Frick entered into the partnership with Andrew Carnegie, he and his wife purchased an estate in Pittsburgh's East End. They eventually named the place Clayton. In early 1883, they began living there. All of their children grew up in the house.
Death & Legacy
On December 2, 1919, Henry Clay Frick passed away following a heart attack. He was two weeks shy of his 70th birthday. He is interred in Pittsburgh's Homewood Cemetery.
An ardent collector of art for most of his life, Frick accumulated an impressive collection of old master paintings. He also collected fine furniture. Following his death, these were given to establish the Frick Collection and art museum.
In his will, Frick donated 150 acres (0.61 km2) of undeveloped land to the city of Pittsburgh to set up a public park. Frick Park was inaugurated in 1927.
Facts About Henry Clay Frick
Henry Clay Frick had a passion for art and amassed an impressive collection during his lifetime, which is now housed in the Frick Collection museum in New York City.
Frick was known for his philanthropy, donating significant sums of money to various causes, including the construction of hospitals and libraries.
Despite his reputation as a ruthless businessman, Frick was also a devoted family man who valued spending time with his wife and children.
Frick had a keen interest in horticulture and enjoyed spending time in his extensive gardens at his estate in Pittsburgh.
He was a skilled negotiator and played a key role in brokering important business deals that helped shape the industrial landscape of America in the late 19th century.

See the events in life of Henry Clay Frick in Chronological Order

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