The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Frick, Henry Clay

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The Cyclopædia of American Biography  (1918) 
James E. Homans, editor
Frick, Henry Clay

FRICK, Henry Clay, b. in West Overton, Pa., 19 Dec., 1849, son of John Wilson and Elizabeth (Overholt) Frick. His earliest American ancestor came from Switzerland in 1750, settling in western Pennsylvania. The line of descent is then traced through his son, George Frick, who established himself on a farm in that region; his son, Daniel Frick, b. in 1796, who married Catherine Miller in 1819; and their son, John W. Frick, b. in 1822, who was the father of the subject of this review. His mother was of German ancestry, the daughter of Abraham Overholt, a landowner and a leading miller and distiller in western Pennsylvania. Henry Clay Frick early gave evidence of the earnestness of purpose that distinguished his subsequent career. At the age of ten he is found attending the district school and, during the summer holidays, gathering sheaves in the wheatfield and performing other light chores on the farm, thereby earning sufficient money to buy his clothes for the ensuing year. At the age of fourteen he began his phenomenal business career as a clerk in a country store at Mount Pleasant, Pa., conducted by Overholt, Shallenberger and Company. At nineteen, he left the store to become bookkeeper in his grandfather Overholt's flouring-mill and distillery at Broad Ford, Pa., the center of the Connellsville coal district. A survey of Frick's activities in the coke industry is necessarily a history of the Connellsville region. He has been the leading spirit in its development, and he alone effected the consolidation of the industry as it now stands. With a foresight unusual in one of his years, he was the first to recognize the importance to the expanding iron industries of this rich deposit of coking coal; he built roads for transporting it, and in some centers Connellsville coke is known only as Frick coke. In 1871 young Frick, with Abraham O. Tintsman, one of his grandfather's partners, and Joseph Rist, organized the firm of Frick and Company. They had three hundred acres of coal lands and fifty coke-ovens. At this time there were not four hundred ovens in the whole Connellsville section, covering an area of one hundred square miles. In the following year Frick and Company erected one hundred and fifty more ovens. He was one of the projectors of the Mount Pleasant and Broad Ford Railroad, built about that time. During the financial panic of 1873 he displayed a capacity for business that made him supreme in the coke industry: he purchased or leased all the works and lands offered by frightened competitors, including the interests of his partners, and, in 1876, became sole owner of Frick and Company. By 1882, when Frick admitted the Carnegies into his business, it had acquired, under his masterful administration, 1,026 ovens and 3,000 acres of coal land. The company was then reorganized with a capital of $2,000,000, and a year later this was increased to $3,000,000 to keep pace with the growth of the trade. In 1889 the capital was further increased to $5,000,000, and the H. C. Frick Coke Company owned and controlled 35,000 acres of coal land, nearly two-thirds of the 15,000 ovens in Connellsville, three water plants with a pumping capacity of 5,000,000 gallons daily, thirty-five miles of railroad track, 1,200 coke-cars, and gave employment to 11,000 men, and its shipments of coal and coke amounted to 1,100 car-loads a day. In 1895, when the capital of the H. C. Frick Coke Company was further increased to $10,000,000, it owned 11,786 ovens and 40,000 acres of Connellsville coal lands, with a capacity of 25.000 tons of coke a day — 80 per cent. of the entire production of the Connellsville region. A little later its monthly output amounted to 1,000,000 tons, and the seeming miles of ovens, heaps of coal awaiting conversion, and the armies of workmen, were classed among the industrial wonders of Pennsylvania. By acquiring the interest of David A. Stewart, in 1889, Frick became second largest stockholder in Carnegie Bros. and Company, Ltd., was elected its chairman, became director in Carnegie, Phipps and Company, and resumed the presidency of the H. C. Frick Coke Company, which he had previously resigned. As chairman of Carnegie Bros. and Company, Ltd., he immediately achieved the signal victory of the many Carnegie successes. Alert to the advantages to be derived from the acquisition of a rival organization, the Duquesne Steel Works, he succeeded by the most skillful financiering and management in absorbing this formidable competitor without the outlay of a single dollar. Bought with nothing but a bond issue of $1,000,000, the plant paid for itself within one year. It soon became the most modern and best equipped steel works in the country; and its labor-saving appliances cut the cost of labor per ton of iron produced to one-half that prevailing elsewhere. In 1892 all the Carnegie interests, except coke, were consolidated into the Carnegie Steel Company, Ltd., and Frick was elected its chairman. His plans of unification, long maturing in his mind, were now to be realized. They not only involved the concentration of the corporate strength of the company, but the assembling of the many scattered establishments into a perfect industrial unit. This he effected by building the Union Railway — a masterly conception; for, besides enabling the company to regain possession of its own yards — hitherto preempted by the railroad companies — it united the widely separated works and connected them with every important railway in western Pennsylvania. As iron ore was now the only raw material purchased of outsiders, the acquiring of ore-fields next engaged his attention; and the Carnegie Company, by Frick's initiative and promptitude in securing one-half interest in the Oliver Mining Company, obtained a supply of high-grade Bessemer ore for its furnaces by the comparatively trivial arrangement of a $500,000 loan, secured by a mortgage on the properties, to be spent in development work. According to “The Inside History of the Carnegie Steel Company,” a publication containing the most comprehensive statement of facts and figures upon the subject, this transaction met with the opposition of Carnegie, who prophesied its failure, not only in his letters from abroad, but also on his return from Europe, when he expressed himself so vigorously in condemnation of it that there ensued the first coolness between himself and Frick. Notwithstanding the successful working of the arrangement, Carnegie continued to place himself on record, with increasing emphasis, as opposed to the venture. It resulted, however, in a triumph for Frick; for the control of these great ore holdings gave the Carnegie Steel Company its impregnable position in the iron industry of the country. In 1896, when Oliver and Frick made a mining and transportation arrangement with the Rockefellers, these ore ventures resulted in a visible saving of $27,000,000; and upon the organization of the United States Steel Corporation the value of the Carnegie-Oliver Company's mines, according to the estimate of Mr. Schwab, was upwards of $500,000,000. Having thus provided an unfailing supply of ore at the mere cost of mining, Mr. Frick next became interested in perfecting plans for its economical transportation to the furnaces. Negotiations were accordingly opened for the acquisition of the Pittsburgh, Chenango and Lake Erie Railroad — “little more than a right-of-way and two streaks of rust,” but with valuable terminal facilities at Conneaut Harbor. These resulted favorably; and by a number of constructive and engineering triumphs, including a steel bridge across the Allegheny River two-thirds of a mile long, its forty-two miles of road, now to be known as the Pittsburgh, Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad, was rebuilt. In October, 1897, fifteen months after letting the first contract, ore trains consisting of thirty-five steel cars, each carrying 100,000 pounds, were running from the company's docks at Lake Erie over the company's own line to Bessemer. There they were distributed over the company's Union Railroad to the blast-furnaces at Braddock, Duquesne, and Pittsburgh. This great development likewise had cost nothing beyond an issue of bonds, made gilt-edged by the volume of traffic furnished by the Carnegie Steel Company itself. The only gap that now remained in Frick's plans of unification was on the Great Lakes; and to fill it the company bought a fleet of six steamers, of 3,000 tons capacity each, which it operated under the title of the Pittsburgh Steamship Company. Thus, did Frick accomplish the immense task of uniting the varied and often conflicting Carnegie interests. He had assembled the disorganized parts into a complete industrial unit that now owned its own mines, dug its own ore with machines of amazing power, loaded it into its own steamers, landed it at its own ports, transported it on its own railroads, distributed it among its many blast-furnaces, and smelted it with coke brought from its own coal mines and ovens and with limestone brought from its own quarries. From the moment the crude ore was dug from the earth until its final distribution as finished steel there was never a profit or royalty paid to an outsider. About this time Mr. Frick appointed a committee to report on a project he had formed for building a tube-works at Conneaut, the Lake Erie terminal of the Bessemer Railroad. Mr. Clemson, its chairman, after investigation, also favored the tube-works, but action was deferred because of a contemplated sale of the steel company to the Moore syndicate. Of course it was originally a simple business plan to build blast-furnaces and a tube-works at Conneaut that would call for Pittsburgh coal and coke and avoid the hauling of empty cars to the lake; but Carnegie, who as early as 1889 had been desirous of selling his interest, revived this project in 1899, and utilized it to force the purchase of the Carnegie Company by the United States Steel Corporation. Summarizing results, Frick, during his tenure of office, increased the annual earning power of the Carnegie works from $1,941,555 to $40,000,000, and their annual production of steel from 332,111 tons to 3,000,000 tons. Wide publicity was given this achievement on the occasion of the equity suit arising out of the threatened confiscation of a large share of Mr. Frick's interest in the Carnegie Steel Company, and the public, amazed at the high degree of efficiency attained, accordingly recognized him as the world's industrial monarch. Upon Mr. Frick's assumption of the office of chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company on 1 July, 1892, there began the fiercest labor battle ever waged — the Homestead Strike. Seven strikes in one or other of the Carnegie works had preceded this one, all accompanied by the customary importation of labor or the employment of non-union men, the engagement of Pinkerton detectives and the usual disorder and violence. Since 1886, however, labor conditions had become greatly intensified. Carnegie's series of lectures and essays glorifying the toiler were given full publicity throughout the country; and a liberal distribution of them by the labor leaders among the workmen rendered dissension comparatively easy. That he had furnished the labor leaders with a powerful argument Carnegie himself learned when he endeavored to settle a strike at the Edgar Thomson Mill in 1888. Regarding this, we quote from “The Inside History of the Carnegie Steel Company”: “The usual strike resulted; but before it had gone far a committee of the strikers went to see Mr. Carnegie at the Windsor Hotel, New York. There he reasoned with them, and talked them into a conciliatory frame of mind; and they agreed to sign the contract he put before them. The affair seemed to have reached a happy conclusion; and the labor leaders left for Pittsburgh in the best of spirits. As Mr. Carnegie bade them good-bye, he pressed into the hands of each a copy of his ‘Forum’ essay. This the men read on the train; and on their arrival at Braddock they promptly repudiated the agreement they had signed and continued the strike.” Carnegie, chagrined at the complications occasioned by the literal interpretation of his theories and unable to consider them free from the bias of self-interest, had Pinkerton guards engaged to protect the non-union workmen; and after a five-months' strike, accompanied by disorder and loss of life, the company won the contest in May, 1888. During the conflict Carnegie was in retirement in Atlantic City, where he was kept informed of its developments by his cousin, George Lauder. The cause of the Homestead Strike of 1892, which took on a militant aspect with opposing armed forces, pitched battles, sieges, night-surprises, and sharpshooting, was comparatively insignificant in itself, but in its implications was all-important. It involved the right of the Carnegie Company to conduct its own business, and grew out of the unfortunate settlement of a dispute at the same works in 1889 — three years before Frick was in full control. The agreement then entered into, which expired in 1892, was productive of most irksome conditions. It not only detracted from the efficiency of the business by permitting the interference of the unions in many details of operation, but based the wages of a small number of the men on tonnage-output, which had since been so enormously increased by the introduction of new machinery and the adoption of improved methods that the “tonnage-men,” as they were called, were receiving twice as much in wages as they themselves expected to get under the agreement, and which were far in excess of what competing manufacturers were paying for the same work. This prosperity enabled the tonnage-men to acquire great power in the labor organizations; and at their instigation the labor leaders refused to ratify a new agreement in which was reduced this excessive compensation of tonnage-men. Notwithstanding Carnegie's aversion to any conference with the workmen — as expressed in his letter from Europe, 10 June, 1892, when he said: “Of course, you will be asked to confer, and I know you will decline all conferences,” and another, 17 June, in which he emphasized his uncompromising attitude toward the labor-union, saying: “Perhaps if Homestead men understand that non-acceptance means non-union forever, they will accept” — Frick cherished the hope of an amicable adjustment of the dispute, and conferred for six hours with a large committee of the workmen on 23 June. It resulted in an important concession to the men on one of the points at variance, but neither side would yield on other matters involved. In view of the defiant attitude of the labor leaders, Mr. Frick, with equal determination, proceeded in accordance with the plans formulated by Carnegie in his notice of 4 April, 1892, before he left for Europe. At that time Mr. Carnegie said: “These works, therefore, will be necessarily Non-Union after the expiration of the present agreement.” Then the strike began and, notwithstanding the fact that out of over 3,800 men the wages of only 325 were affected, it soon involved not only the tonnage-men, but all other workers in the mill. The contest was characterized by great violence on the part of the workmen and a steadfast adherence to his own policy by Mr. Frick. The strikers formed a military organization, deposed the municipal authorities, and sent threatening letters to the company's officials, who, upon the failure of the sheriff to protect their property, attempted to land 300 watchmen from two barges. These being attacked with rifle shot and cannon, there resulted a serious loss of life on both sides. However, in extenuation of the hostility of the strikers — we quote from “The Romance of Steel”: “The workmen had a conviction, almost a religious belief, that no outsiders had a right to come in and take their places during a strike. Andrew Carnegie himself a few years before had said: ‘There is an unwritten law among the best workmen. Thou shalt not take thy neighbor's job.’ ” To Carnegie's benevolent theories the workmen evidently attributed the happy condition of affairs during the existence of the old agreement; although as the time approached for its revision he made elaborate preparations to avoid a repetition of the former blunder. He was also in full accord with the manner in which the strike was being conducted, having cabled Whitelaw Reid, who was endeavoring to bring about a settlement of the affair, that no compromise would be considered by him, and that he would rather see grass growing over the Homestead works than advise Mr. Frick to yield to the strikers. During all these exciting happenings at Homestead Mr. Carnegie, in order to elude the appeals of the workmen which it was foreseen his speeches and writings would call forth, was in seclusion at Rannoch Lodge, in Scotland, in accordance with plans made by him long before. In a cablegram to Mr. Frick, he said: “. . . Use your own discretion about terms and starting. George Lauder, Henry Phipps, Andrew Carnegie solid. H. C. Frick forever!” But the workmen seemed to believe that Mr. Frick was preventing the adoption of the Carnegie idealism. Much comment was provoked by Mr. Carnegie's inconsistency. The “St. James Gazette” reported that “Mr. Carnegie has preserved the same moody silence toward the members of the American Legation here; and all other persons in London with whom he is usually in communication have not heard a word from him since the beginning of the troubles at Homestead. . . . The news, of the shooting of Mr. Frick has intensified the feeling of all classes against Mr. Carnegie.” The “London Times” said: “The avowed champion of trade-unions now finds himself in almost ruinous conflict with the representatives of his own views. He has probably by this time seen cause to modify his praises of unionism and the sweet reasonableness of its leaders.” Shortly after, a writer in the St. Louis “Post-Dispatch” wrote: “Say what you will of Frick, he is a brave man. Say what you will of Carnegie, he is a coward. And gods and men hate cowards.” Incidentally, to this strike was attributed the defeat of President Harrison for re-election; and Senator Depew said: “ . . . The Republican leaders attempted early in the campaign to have the strike settled and cabled to Mr. Carnegie direct without consulting Mr. Frick.” In both the reports of the Committee of Investigation of the House of Representatives and of the Senate Committee, appointed to investigate the strike, there appeared quotations by the workmen of Carnegie's terse commandment to illustrate the course which Mr. Frick ought to have followed in his treatment of them. Thus appears the testimony of T. V. Powderly, general master workman of the Knights of Labor: “Does your organization countenance the prevention of non-union men taking the place of striking or locked-out men?” Powderly's pregnant reply was: “We agree with Andrew Carnegie, ‘Thou shalt not take thy neighbor's job.’ ” On 23 July, 1892, a Russian anarchist gained access to Mr. Frick's office, shot him twice and stabbed him repeatedly. With a magnificent display of courage, he struggled to his feet and helped Mr. Leishman to subdue the fanatic, whom Mr. Frick later saved from the summary punishment of a deputy sheriff who rushed in and seemed about to shoot him. “No, don't kill him,” said Mr. Frick; “raise his head and let me see his face.” Although in a critical condition himself, — the doctors at first expressed little hope of his recovery, — Mr. Frick's chief concern was for his wife, who was seriously ill. While the doctors were operating upon him, Mr. Frick, with remarkable fortitude, completed several urgent business matters, including a cablegram to Mr. Carnegie stating that he was not mortally injured. Convinced of the fairness of the company's position in the strike — and subsequent events prove him to have been right — Mr. Frick did not permit this culmination of unbounded fury to influence his policy. Propped up in bed and swathed in bandages, he conducted the affairs of the strike until thirteen days later, when he unceremoniously returned to his office, having, the previous day, attended the funeral of his youngest child, born during the excitement. Despite the great efforts by which politicians and others sought to divert him from his course, Mr. Frick, with decency and firmness, kept steadily on and finally won the fight. When the troops were called out to quell the open reign of terror at Homestead, the Carnegie officials were put in possession of their property and the men returned to work. After less than a year's trial of the new scale of wages the men admitted the fairness of Frick's adjustment of the difficulties, and strikes and disagreements ceased. Having inherited a terrific labor conflict upon assuming the chairmanship of the Carnegie Steel Company, an equally tempestuous situation threatened him upon his retirement, seven years later; and again there was no hesitation and no compromise. The trouble arose from certain differences between himself and Carnegie, which gradually widened into personal antipathy. From what can be learned from the many publications upon the subject, it was due to the cumulative effect of their disagreements upon several questions, such as Frick's ore venture; the price the steel company should pay for coke; Carnegie's chagrin at the failure to complete the sale of the business to the Moore Syndicate, and the company's contemplated purchase of land from Frick. Carnegie's insinuation concerning the profit Frick might have made from this last was the culminating factor in the clash. The company wanted to purchase this land, and Frick offered it at $500 an acre less than its appraised value; but upon learning of Carnegie's criticisms, he withdrew his offer, and later sold it elsewhere for half a million dollars more than he had asked the Carnegie Steel Company. Mr. Frick indignantly resented this insinuation by an arraignment of Mr. Carnegie which he made official in an open minute, spread upon the records of the Carnegie Steel Company. To this Carnegie did not reply until the Board of Managers approved the minutes at their next meeting. He then called the Board of Managers together and demanded that they request Mr. Frick's resignation. The junior partners were reluctant to comply, but by his power of majority Interest in the company Carnegie silenced all opposition; and Mr. Frick, in the interest of harmony, tendered his resignation. Messrs. Henry Phipps and Schwab tried to bring about a reconciliation, but failed; and Schwab, in a letter to Frick, wrote: “ . . . Under these circumstances there is nothing left for us to do but obey, although the situation the board is thus placed in is most embarrassing. . . .” Schwab had admitted his obligations to Frick, and frankly attributed his success to him. “If I have anything of value in me,” he wrote, Mr. Frick's “method of treatment will bring it out to its full extent”; and he “regarded with more satisfaction than anything else in life — even fortune — the consciousness of having won” Mr. Frick's “friendship and regard.” Having accomplished Frick's expulsion from the chairmanship, Carnegie apparently seemed satisfied; but a month later he returned to the attack with an elaborate scheme which he had meditated for the complete “ejecture” of Frick. He called a meeting of the managers and urged them to go through the ritual he had prepared. This contemplated the forcible seizure of Frick's interest at book values, the inadequacy of which is shown by the fact that in the case of the Upper Union Mills, it was $91,857 less than the net profits actually made in the previous year; and the discrepancies in the value of the other works were almost as great. At this juncture Frick, desiring a peaceful solution, offered to sell his interests to Carnegie at a price to be fixed by arbitrators, or to purchase Carnegie's on the same terms. Carnegie, however, declined to consider either offer, but proceeded to effect Frick's “ejecture” and compel him to sell his interest in the Carnegie Company at $11,000,000 less than its value, to be paid in such small installments during a term of years of such duration, as would enable its being paid out of the profits earned by Frick's interest. In an effort to make this scheme effective, a minute on the books of the Carnegie Steel Company was expunged, to revive an agreement made thirteen years before by the members of an entirely different corporation — namely, Carnegie Bros, and Company. An attempt was then made to graft onto this Carnegie Bros.' agreement a “supplemental ironclad” of the Carnegie Steel Company, eight years old, which had never been signed by the principal owners. To make this double-decked instrument applicable there were now added the signatures of Carnegie himself and of some members who had no connection with the enterprise at the time the agreement was signed by Frick. It was on these proceedings that was based the greatest lawsuit ever commenced in the State of Pennsylvania. Henry Phipps and Henry M. Curry refused to sign the demand, and Phipps joined Frick in protesting against the action of the board; but of the many debtor partners, only one, F. T. F. Lovejoy, was bold enough to counsel resistance to Carnegie's wishes. He simply signed it in his official capacity, and filed a separate answer in the equity suit questioning the validity of his colleagues' act. The stupendous profits and amazing exhibition of industrial efficiency revealed by Frick's bill of equity attracted universal attention, and the promised disclosures were awaited with the greatest expectancy by legislators and publicists. These disclosures, however, were never made, for negotiations were at once entered into to stop the litigation; and five days after Carnegie's answer had been filed to Frick's citation, a settlement was effected by which Frick received more than $31,000,000 in securities which later yielded him $23,000,000 more than Carnegie tried to force him to sell for. Thus ended the second of the two most sensational conflicts in industrial history. Although possessed of a business acumen and mental alertness that made him transcendent in the business world and extorted wonder from his opponents and admiration from his associates, Mr. Frick's conceptions of right and wrong never permitted him to take advantage of another's mistake. His sympathies are broad and easily stirred, but his modesty causes him to conceal his frequent benefactions. Society functions do not appeal to him; his tastes are simple and his domestic life exemplary. He is without pretense of any sort; living his natural life as a quiet, unassuming gentleman. His extensive interests at present (1917) fully occupy his attention. In 1901 he built the largest office building in Pittsburgh, the Frick Building, and later added to it the Frick Building Annex. In 1916 he built the still more beautiful Union Arcade Building, covering an area of 230 by 240 feet. Aside from being the largest owner of real estate in Pittsburgh, and constantly adding to his holdings, he is director in many important corporations, including the Pennsylvania Railroad Company; Chicago and Northwestern Railway; Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway; Norfolk and Western Railway Company; United States Steel Corporation; the Mellon National Bank, and the Union Trust Company of Pittsburgh. Mr. Frick is a member of many clubs, among them the Union League, Metropolitan, National Arts, New York Yacht, Corinthian Yacht, Racquet and Tennis, City, Midday, Riding, Country, the Automobile Club of America, and the Union Club of Pittsburgh. He married, in Pittsburgh, Pa., on 15 Dec, 1881, Adelaide Howard Childs, daughter of Asa P. Childs, of Pittsburgh. They were the parents of four children, of whom one son, Childs, and one daughter, Helen Clay Frick, survive. His handsome home at Seventieth Street and Fifth Avenue, New York, was given over to Marshal Joffre, ex-Premier M. Viviani, and the other members of the French War Mission during their visit to the United States, incident to this country's entry into the European War. The dinner in honor of the Commission, a private affair at which a number of prominent men participated, was an historic event. “The World” (N. Y.) characterized it: “As distinguished a gathering as ever sat down at one table in this city.” Although it included many noted orators, no speeches were made, but at the close of the dinner Mr. Frick, who presided, proposed a toast “To France and our Guests.” M. Viviani, of the French Commission, responded with a toast: “To the United States and our Host.” Then Colonel Roosevelt proposed the third and last toast: “To the Presidents of the United States and France.” Mr. Frick's home is destined to be regarded as one of the city's landmarks. It is designed to become a public museum, and arrangements have been made to present it and its magnificent contents, including one of the world's notable collections of paintings, to the city of New York after the death of Mr. and Mrs. Frick — an appropriate monument to the magnanimous character of both. See “The Inside History of the Carnegie Steel Company,” by James Howard Bridge; “The Romance of Steel,” by Herbert L. Casson.


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