The Way It Was: Henry Clay Frick

By May 25, 2008The Way It Was

The%20Way%20It%20Was.jpgOne of the toughest guys in the history of American industry was Henry Clay Frick who was a partner of Andrew Carnegie in building the domestic steel industry. Like Carnegie, Frick was a little guy, born to grinding poverty who worked his way to the top with sagacity and fierce determination.

He got started borrowing money from a relative to buy some coal seams and a coke plant. When the market dropped through the floor in 1873, he used the opportunity to buy new coke plants that were idle. When the market recovered, he was off and running big time.

He did quality work and had a gift for efficiency, whipping a disparate group of miners, coke operations and shippers into a disciplined machine. In 1882, he merged his operations with Carnegie’s, bought out rivals and built up the Union Railroad to connect his various operations.

Frick was the tough guy in the 1892 Homestead strike that led to a shootout in which seven striking workers and three guards were killed. This incident, a shameful episode in the history of American industry, led to a rift between Frick and Carnegie.

It led also to an assassination attempt in which Frick was shot twice and stabbed three times. He fought off his attacker and refused an anesthetic while a doctor probed for the bullets — so he could keep working. Manufacturing is not for sissies.

Like Carnegie, Frick left his vast fortune to charity, mostly educational causes.

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