Henry Frick was born in West Overton, Pennsylvania in 1849 ("Henry Clay Frick"). He amassed a fortune from his coke and steel business, and he was extremely respected among 19th century industrial magnates for his business and accounting acumen. He became the head of the Carnegie Steel Company; however, after years of contention with Andrew Carnegie, Frick formed the United States Steel Corporation ("Henry Clay Frick"). Known among his contemporaries as a quiet philanthropist, a dedicated family man, and an avid art collector, Frick was not respected or well-liked by the general public. Competing business owners and working class men and women considered Frick to be a hardnosed, cruel business man who built business monopolies and believed his workers were expendable. Frick refused to negotiate with union organizations and eagerly maximized his profits at the expense of his workers. The late 19th century is known as the era of “robber-baron” industrialists, and Frick was just one of the many wealthy industrialists who exemplified the image of a ruthless capitalist. For all that Henry Frick has accomplished as a business man, philanthropist, and arts conservationist, his legacy will forever be tarnished because of his business practices. He died in New York City in 1919 as one of the richest men in the world ("Henry Clay Frick").
Henry Clay Frick had become a millionaire by his 30th birthday, dubbing him the “King of Coke” (Schoettler). By the age of 32, Frick had become America's largest individual railroad stockholder, having financed the building of the Philadelphia and Reading railroads (Schoettler). He became wealthier after he and Andrew Carnegie built a $303 million steel company together and even more affluent after creating U.S. Steel--one of the world's first billion-dollar corporations--with J.P. Morgan (Schoettler). Before he died, Frick had amassed more than $225 million, which is equivalent to $22 billion in today’s calculations (Schoettler). Frick had gained the reputation as the most hated man in America because of his involvement in the Johnstown Flood and the Homestead Strike of 1892. A nearly successful assassination attempt on his life by a working class union supporter emphasizes how despised he was by working class people.
Henry Clay Frick started his business career working as a salesman and chief bookkeeper for one of Pittsburgh’s prominent family distilleries (Colin B. et al). Saving his money, Frick partnered with a cousin and purchased coking fields—a residue of coal that was used as a fuel source—and they built fifty coke ovens (Colin B. et al). Named the H. C. Frick Coke Company, Frick and his cousin would expand their company to operate over a thousand coke ovens, producing close to eighty percent of the coke used by Pittsburgh's iron and steel companies (Colin B. et al). In 1881, Frick married and moved to the prosperous Homewood section of the Pittsburgh, sparking his introduction to Andrew Carnegie (Colin B. et al). In1882, Frick went into business with Andrew Carnegie, a partnership that would last for almost twenty years (Colin B. et al). The H. C. Frick Coke Company and the Carnegie Brothers Steel Company monopolized the coke, iron, and steel industry, making millions of dollars and enemies. Frick and Carnegie did not always agree on business matters, resulting in the dissolution of their partnership and a lawsuit over the interests of the Frick Coke Company. The dispute was settled and Frick received $30 million in securities (Colin B. et al). One year after the court settlement, in 1901, Frick moved to New York to take the position of director for J. P. Morgan's United States Steel Corporation (Colin B. et al).
Before Frick and Carnegie dissolved their business partnership and friendship, they and other business tycoons founded the “members only” South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club ("Johnstown Flood"). The resort like club was built above Johnstown, a small town in Pennsylvania ("Johnstown Flood"). The club members had also dug a large man-made lake for their exclusive use ("Johnstown Flood"). The club and lake were built next to an abandoned dam, which was known to be unsafe ("Johnstown Flood"). In May of 1889, the dam broke after days of non-stop rain, and the members-only lake surged over Johnstown ("Johnstown Flood"). The effect was devastating: “2,209 people died, including 396 children; more than 750 victims were never identified; bodies were found as far away as Cincinnati, as late as 1911; 1,600 homes were destroyed; $17 million in property damage was done; four square miles of downtown Johnstown were completely destroyed; the debris that was cleaned up covered 30 acres” ("Johnstown Flood").
Frick and the other members of the club were not harmed, and they did nothing until Pittsburgh radio stations and newspapers reported the incident and the extent of the devastation. Frick and the other club members formed the Pittsburgh Relief Committee to aid the flood victims, never granting an interview to the press or releasing a statement about the club or the flood ("Johnstown Flood"). While this tactic appeared successful, the public and the media despised Frick even more, especially since he escaped criminal charges and was ordered by the courts to pay a minor fine for negligence.
A few years later, Frick found himself in more trouble with the public, due to a workers’ strike at the Homestead Steel Works. In 1892, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers called for a strike at the Homestead Works of the Carnegie Steel Company ("The American Experience”). At the time, Frick was the plant manager, and he was known for his “anti-union policies” ("The American Experience”). Forced to negotiate with union officials after he and company staff were locked out, Frick ordered the construction of “a solid board fence topped with barbed wire” to be built around Homestead’s property” and hired the notorious Pinkerton Detective Agency to subdue the armed striking workers ("The American Experience”). During the melee between the armed strikers and the armed Pinkerton agents, “nine workers and one of the Pinkerton agents were killed, as well as approximately seventy injuries reported ("The American Experience”).
However, the riot/brawl did not end until 8,000 armed, state soldiers were sent in by the governor ("The American Experience”). To make matters worse, during the confrontation between the workers and the hired agents, Frick promised to evict the striking workers from their homes ("The American Experience”). After the riot ended, Frick granted an interview with the Pittsburgh Post ("The American Experience”). In the interview, he stood by his decision to hire a private, armed security firm, his goal to reduce the workers’ wages at the plant, and why he refused to meet the demands of the workers’ union ("The American Experience”). Already under strain, Frick and Carnegie's relationship worsened over Frick’s actions during the strike, and working-class Americans loathed Frick even more.
In July of 1892, the same month of the Homestead riot, Frick became the target of an assassination attempt by a young Russian immigrant, claiming to be a revolutionary seeking revenge for the 9 men killed in the Homestead riot. Frick seemed calm about the attempt stating that even Carnegie had survived an assassination attempt (Krause 354-361). Dubbed an anarchist by the media, Alexander Berkman entered the downtown Pittsburgh office of Frick armed with a gun and a sharpened steel file and fired at Frick from point-blank range (Krause 354-361). Berkman shot Frick in the left earlobe and in the neck--and stabbed him four times--before he was grabbed by Carnegie Steel Vice President, John George Alexander Leishman (Krause 354-361). Known to never show fear or miss work, Frick returned to his office within a week of the attempt (Krause 354-361). Berkman was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to 22 years in prison (Krause 354-361). In the end, Frick still won his war against unionization: 2,500 workers were fired and the workers who remained had their wages cut in half (Krause 354-361).
Henry Clay Frick was a complex man, in that his vision for America helped this country become one of the strongest industrial nations in the world; however, that same vision exploited and ruined the lives of countless American workers and families. His actions in the Johnstown Flood and Homestead Strike were reprehensible, and his manipulation of politicians and bullying of business competitors was abysmal. While men like Frick seem to be a necessary evil for business to thrive and for countries to grow, men like Frick cause more harm than good in the long run. However, Frick and business capitalists like him, should share the blame with the working class. While business capitalists show no regard for workers’ safety and keep wages low, there are always more workers willing to take a disgruntled or injured worker’s place. Likewise, while business capitalists have the power to raise prices on goods and services, boycotts of these goods and services are foiled because someone will always disregard the boycott because he or she “needs something.” Disparities in wealth and class are not only caused by corrupt business persons and government officials but also by the public because too many people refuse to go without for the greater good.
Today, industrialized nations like America, Britain, Russia, and China see the pros and cons of industrialization. The machines that are built to assemble the items that are used daily—cars, clothes, electronic devices, and more—make life easier and more enjoyable. However, the people who work in these industries are paid very little, cannot afford health insurance, work long hours, and are always in fear of losing their jobs. Additionally, industrialization has caused massive global pollution. From oil spills in the ocean to gaseous fumes released in the atmosphere, industrialization has done more damage to the environment than man will ever cause. Industrialization also rapes the Earth of its natural resources. The anticipation of consumption causes industrial companies to practice deforestation, factory farming, and the over mining of natural resources.
The social issues that result from industrialization are just as problematic. Massive groups of people rush from rural areas to over-crowd cities, creating negative competition for services, housing, food, and employment. While it may appear too late to solve the issues that industrialization has caused, a solution is attainable. The solution must be a collective effort among business owners to embrace environmentally safe systems and procedures; government officials must enforce fines on companies that disregard environmental and social policies, and the general public must practice moderation. Once all of these solutions are put in place, industrialization will become a great accomplishment.
Colin B. et al. “Henry Clay Frick.” The Frick Collection. The Frick Organization, 2011. Web. 6 June 2014.
"Henry Clay Frick." Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2014. Web. 06 June 2014.
"Johnstown Flood." Johnstown Area Heritage Foundation, 2014. Web. 7 June 2014. <http://www.jaha.org/FloodMuseum/facts.html>.
Krause, Paul. The Battle for Homestead, 1880-1892: Politics, Culture, and Steel. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992. Print.
Schoettler, Carl. "Art and Soul In Trying to Reconcile the Two Faces of Henry Clay Frick." Baltimore Sun 09 Dec. 1998: n.p. Web. 7 June 2014. <http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1998-12-09/features/1998343120_1_clay-frick-henry-clay-art-collector>.
"The American Experience | Andrew Carnegie | Strike at Homestead Mill." Pbs.org, 2009. Web. 7 June 2014.