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Henry Clay Frick

Born: 19-Dec-1849
Birthplace: West Overton, PA
Died: 2-Dec-1919
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Syphilis
Remains: Buried, Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Gender: Male
Religion: Christian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Business
Party Affiliation: Republican

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Robber baron, Johnstown flood

Henry Clay Frick was the grandson of a rich miller and whisky maker, and had little formal education, but with financial backing from millionaire Thomas Mellon he began buying coal mines at the age of 22. During the financial panic of 1873, Frick bought out most of his competitors, and by the early 1880s he was a multi-millionaire, controlling about 40,000 acres of productive coal land and operating 12,000 coke ovens. In 1882 he entered a partnership with steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, giving Carnegie a controlling interest in Frick Coke Company, for which Frick received a minority interest in the Carnegie Steel Company. When Carnegie retired in 1889, Frick became chairman of Carnegie Steel, and under his management it became the world's largest coke and steel operation.

He was a lead investor in a group which purchased a reservoir now known as Lake Conemaugh, near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, converting the shore into a private resort for the wealthy called the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. Among many alterations to the area, Frick's group had the dam lowered and the reservoir's water level raised, while maintenance of the dam was generally ignored, factors which almost certainly contributed to the dam's collapse on 31 May 1899 -- the infamous Johnstown flood. About 20 million tons of water and countless more tons of debris roared into the valley, killing about 2,200 people. The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was sued, but the dam's collapse was ruled an act of God. Frick, whose personal worth was then estimated at $12M, personally donated thousands of dollars to relief efforts.

In 1892, Frick unilaterally lowered wages by more than 20% and refused to negotiate with union representatives, moves met with a strike of the Amalgamated Iron and Steel Workers Union at his mill in Homestead, Pennsylvania. Frick hired hundreds of strikebreakers and Pinkerton thugs, triggering riots in which at least ten men were killed, dozens seriously injured, and the town was placed under martial law. On 23 July 1892, would-be assassin Alexander Berkman shot and stabbed Frick in his office, but an employee fought off the attack. According to dubious but widely-circulated reports at the time, Frick remained at his desk until the end of the work day, while doctors removed the bullets and Frick refused anesthesia.

After a falling out with Carnegie in 1899, Frick was replaced by Charles M. Schwab as chairman of Carnegie Steel. He was paid $15M for his interest in the Carnegie and Frick companies, which soon merged with J. Pierpont Morgan's Federal Steel Co. and eight other competitors to form US Steel Corporation. In Carnegie's last months, he sought rapprochement, and Frick replied "I will see him in hell, where we are both going." At his death from undiagnosed syphilis, he left most of his huge fortune to various charities, and he is now best known as the namesake of Frick Park and the Frick Art & Historical Center in Pittsburgh, and the Frick Collection and the Frick Art Reference Library in New York City.

Father: John Wilson Frick (b. 25-Feb-1822, d. 31-Aug-1888)
Mother: Elizabeth Overholt Frick (b. 2-Jun-1818, m. 19-Aug-1847, d. 1-Aug-1905)
Sister: Maria Frick (b. 9-Feb-1848)
Sister: Anna Frick (b. 21-Aug-1852)
Brother: Aaron Frick (b. 7-Apr-1855)
Brother: J. Edgar Frick (b. 16-May-1859)
Sister: Sarah Frick (b. 21-Mar-1862)
Wife: Adelaide Howards Childs Frick (d. Oct-1931)
Son: Childs Frick
Daughter: Helen Clay Frick (philanthropist-socialite, b. circa 1888, d. Nov-1984)
Son: Henry Clay Frick, Jr. (d. childhood)
Daughter: Martha Frick (b. 5-Aug-1885, d. childhood)

    Frick Coke Company Founder (1871)
    Member of the Board of Carnegie Steel (as Chairman, 1889-99)
    Member of the Board of US Steel (1901-02)
    Member of the Board of Union Pacific
    Frick Collection Benefactor
    Shot 23-Jul-1892 by Alexander Berkman
    German Ancestry
    Swiss Ancestry

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