Historical Markers
Henry Clay Frick (Fine Arts) Historical Marker
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Henry Clay Frick (Fine Arts)

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
437 Grant St., Frick Bldg., Pittsburgh

Dedication Date:
December 10, 1946

Behind the Marker

Sepia photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Clay Frick.  He holds a top hat and gloves. She is wearing hat and is seated. Both are in formal dress.  Image taken in Boston in 1882.
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Clay Frick, 1882.
Like Andrew Carnegie, the man most associated with the steel industry of the United States, Henry Clay Frick, his second-in-command and later his bitter enemy, was a man of contradictions. On the one hand a ruthless industrialist who smashed competitors and unions to earn the maximum profit, Frick was also a philanthropist who gave away millions before he died, even more after his death, and was a devoted family man and one of the nation's leading patrons of the arts.

Frick was born in the small town of markerWest Overton, Pennsylvania, the son of a farmer and the daughter of Westmoreland County's wealthiest citizen, whiskey distiller Abraham Overholt. Overholt gave little to his family but did bequeath an insatiable desire for business success to his grandson, who made it his goal by the age of thirty to be wealthier than his grandfather. Frick briefly attended Westmoreland College and Otterbein College in Ohio before taking a job as a clerk in his uncle's store in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. Frick's organizational abilities and personal charm caused it to flourish.

Frick soon realized, however, that true wealth lay in western Pennsylvania's infant markercoke industry. Understanding that steel was the key to American industrial greatness and that coke was the essential ingredient for the making of steel, at the age of twenty-two, he had joined his cousin Abraham O. Tintsman, to form the Henry C. Frick Coke Company. With the aid of a $10,000 loan from his friend Andrew Mellon, the company became the leading producer of coke in the nation during the 1870s. By the age of thirty, the young millionaire was already twice as wealthy as his grandfather.
Beautiful oil on canvas of Emma Hart Hamilton and her dog.
Lady Hamilton as ‘Nature", George Romney, 1782.

In 1881, markerAndrew Carnegie, anxious to control all elements in the production of steel, invited Frick and his new bride Adelaide Childs to New York, where he proposed a partnership. Carnegie and Frick became partners in each other's companies, with Frick becoming Carnegie's chairman of the board. Under his leadership, Carnegie's annual profits increased from $3.5 to $21 million dollars from 1889 to 1899.

Unlike Carnegie, however, Frick lacked the human touch in public that he lavished in private on his family. As the man directly in charge of Carnegie Steel's response to the markerHomestead Strike of 1892 - Carnegie at the time chose to vacation in Scotland - Frick became one of the great villains of the American labor movement by calling in the state militia and Pinkerton detectives to seize the plant and break the strike. After Carnegie tried to blame Frick for the deadly violence that resulted from Homestead, an action that conformed to his own policies, relations between the two men cooled during the nineties. Frick sued Carnegie, forced the reorganization of Carnegie Steel, contributed heavily to Carnegie's retirement and the creation of U.S. Steel under the leadership of J. P. Morgan, and in the process increased the value of his interest in Carnegie Steel from five to fifty million dollars.
Beautiful oil on canvas profile portrait of Henry Clay Frick and his daughter Helen in formal dress.
Henry Clay and Helen Frick, by Edmund Charles Tarbell, c. 1910.

In his old age, Frick became something of a hero. He aroused personal sympathy when two of his four children died young (in infancy and age six, respectively) and he survived an assassination attempt by anarchist Alexander Berkman. Unlike Carnegie, who covered his greed with writings such as The Gospel of Wealth, a well-publicized interest in Scottish highland culture, and his libraries and other philanthropies, Frick never pretended to be what he was not. With less fanfare, Frick left $117 million of his $142 million dollar estate to the public, including his art collection and his palatial Renaissance-style residence in New York. He also footed the cost of the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh; one of Frick's few close friends was the astronomer markerJohn A. Brashear. He was especially generous to hospitals and institutions that educated teachers as well.

Frick made his first documented purchase of a work of art in 1881, although as a young man he painted (in secret, Andrew Mellon later recalled, so people would not think him a "sissy") and expressed the wish for the talent to be an artist. His great-granddaughter said that art collecting was his principal means of mourning the death of his beloved six-year-old daughter, Martha. She also traced how many of the paintings he purchased resembled his daughter and other members of his family, or recalled both the beauty and the hard work of the Pennsylvania countryside in which he had grown up. (Frick was especially fond of the Barbizon School and Jean-Francois Millet.) Among his greatest acquisitions, Rembrandt's "The Polish Rider" recalls Frick's determination to succeed, whereas Goya's "The Forge" illustrates the work behind his wealth.

George Romney's portrait of Emma Hamilton, one of the most beautiful likenesses of a woman ever painted, faced his bed; that it reminded him of the woman Martha might have become must have reinforced the melancholy for which he was noted.
A gray haired man, with thick mustache and eyebrows, wearing a three piece dark suit, white shirt, and tie sits in a chair at a desk. His right hand leans against his chin and his left lies on his leg.
Andrew William Mellon by Sir Oswald Hornby Joseph Birley, 1923.

Frick was not alone in his love of the arts. Much of the wealth extracted from Pennsylvania by its industrialists went to Europe, where it purchased some of the world's greatest masterpieces. Wealthy Pittsburgh industrialists such as food processing mogul markerH. J. Heinz and members of the Laughlin and Jones Steel families had assembled collections by the 1860s. Their collections inspired Frick and his friend Andrew Mellon, another young Pittsburgh industrialist, to go to Europe on their first collecting trip in 1880. Mellon was an even more prodigious collector and if anything even more hard working and personally modest than Frick
This photo shows the Exterior View Home of Henry Clay Frick, at 5th Avenue and 70th Street, New York.
The Henry Clay Frick mansion at 5th Avenue and 70th Street in New York City,...

When he died in 1937, he left his collection of 369 European and 175 American masterpieces to the nation, and endowed the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C. to house them. They remain the core of its collection to this day. Born in Pittsburgh, Mellon also became a partner of Carnegie, founded the Mellon Bank, and served as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. One of the nation's wealthiest men, he was nevertheless so retiring he was unknown outside Pennsylvania before Harding appointed him to the cabinet.

Like Mellon's, Frick's art collection also left Pennsylvania. The Frick Collection may be found in New York at one of the last surviving intact Fifth Avenue mansions (now the Cooper-Hewitt Museum at Seventieth Street) that belonged to the nation's great industrialists in the early twentieth century. Although he is commemorated by a marker at one of the many downtown office buildings in Pittsburgh whose construction he financed, visitors should also see the Frick Art and Historical Center at Clayton, the estate in Pittsburgh where he lived until 1905.

His surviving daughter, Helen, donated Clayton to the public upon her death in 1984 at age ninety-six. The house may be viewed as an example of the way of life enjoyed by the late-nineteenth-century rich. Another building houses Helen's own substantial art collection. The Center also boasts a car and carriage museum in the Frick carriage house (much enlarged) that contains twenty historic cars, including Frick's 1914 Rolls Royce. A small cottage built for the Frick children to play in serves as the visitor center; the greenhouse, dating from 1897, also belonged to Frick.
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