Henry Clay Frick Business Records

What's online?

All correspondence between Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie from is scanned. Note that related correspondence held separately by both the Archives Service Center at the University of Pittsburgh and at the Frick Library in New York City were scanned. Five scrapbooks that document the Homestead Steel Strike are also scanned and online.

What's in the entire collection?

The Henry Clay Frick Business Records contain material reflecting the business and financial activities of Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) with particular relevance to Pittsburgh and the western Pennsylvania region. These materials highlight Frick’s ascent into prominence during a period of American industrial growth. Frick especially kept in frequent correspondence with Andrew Carnegie among many others as noted in the collection material.

About Henry Clay Frick

Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), industrialist and art patron, was born in West Overton, Pennsylvania, a rural village about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. His grandfather, Abraham Overholt, owned a farm and distillery in the middle of the Pittsburgh Coal seam in the Connellsville region of Fayette County, Pa. At the age of 21, Frick realized the potential of the bituminous coal found in the area and borrowed money to form a partnership, Frick & Company, a coal and coke-producing firm. Due to the growing demand for coke in Pittsburgh’s growing steel industry, Frick was extremely successful and soon controlled eighty percent of the state’s coke output. Frick seized the opportunity during the Panic of 1873 to buy out his competitors, drawing the attention and business of Andrew Carnegie and his budding steel empire. By 1879, at the age of thirty, Frick had made himself a millionaire.

Carnegie brought Frick on as chairman of Carnegie Brothers & Company and Frick quickly organized all of Carnegie’s industrial interests into the world's largest coke and steel firm, the Carnegie Steel Company. Immediately Frick was left to manage the company’s 1892 labor struggles, which was immortalized as the Battle of Homestead. Along with anarchist Alexander Berkman’s attempt on his life soon after, the fallout of the strike drove a wedge between Frick and Carnegie. As the years went on, he continued to have countless disputes with Carnegie which eventually resulted in Frick's resignation from the company’s board in 1899. In the early 1900s, Frick was involved in the formation of the United States Steel Corporation and built a large coke and steel plant in Clairton, Pa., called St. Clair Steel Company, while simultaneously investing in mining firms in West Virginia, Colorado, Wyoming, and central Peru. Frick also made several major real estate investments in downtown Pittsburgh, financing building projects which included the Frick Building, Frick Annex, William Penn Hotel, and Union Arcade.

By 1905, Frick’s business and social interests had shifted from Pittsburgh to New York City and he moved his family into a Fifth Avenue mansion. Frick and his daughter, Helen Clay, were avid patrons of the arts and over the years amassed a famed collection of early-Renaissance and eighteenth-century French paintings and furniture, as well as some nineteenth and twentieth century English pieces. Upon his death in 1919, Frick left a fortune of nearly $50 million with more than eighty percent of the amount being donated to charitable organizations. The main portion of the Frick art collection is housed at The Frick Collection in his former New York mansion, converted into a museum since 1935; however, a small portion of his art collection is on display at the Frick Art & Historical Center at Clayton, Frick’s Pittsburgh estate, which was also turned into a museum in late 1990.

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