Saturday, March 3, 2007


Henry Clay Frick
December 19, 1848 – December 2, 1919

“The King of Coke” and the creator of what is now the Frick Collection in New York, Henry Clay Frick was the sometime partner and sometime adversary of Andrew Carnegie and the lifelong friend of Andrew W. Mellon.

There is a good book about Frick by his great-granddaughter Martha Frick Symington Sanger (Henry Clay Frick: An Intimate Portrait) that tells most of the story well. Some of her grandfather’s business machinations, however, are downplayed to place him in a more favorable light than the facts might warrant, especially his role in ousting SFF&HC member John G A Leishman from the chairmanship of Carnegie Steel and his similar role in the Equitable Insurance Scandal, in which James Hazen Hyde (Leishman's future son-in-law) was similarly treated.

It is fair to say that Frick was a genius at making money. It is also fair to say that his interpersonal skills were not of the first calibre, especially those beyond his immediate family. He was good at networking with others to bring about hoped-for business outcomes. He did not bother making or maintianing congenial relationships with people unless it would benefit his own goals and projects.

Henry Clay Frick was born in a modest little springhouse on the grounds of his maternal grandfather’s estate in West Overton, Pennsylvania. The house remains as do all of the other signs of Grandfather Abraham S. Overholt’s successful whiskey brewery business, and can be visited by the intrepid tourist. See this website for more information...

A Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonite, Abraham S. Overholt had come from the area around Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, westward, and had Americanized his Oberholtzer surname. His daughter Elizabeth married John Frick.

The John and Elizabeth Overholt Frick family was impoverished and the contrast between their humble lives in the shadow of Grandfather Overholt’s prosperity played on the impressionable “Clay”. He vowed that he would be a millionaire by the time that he was thirty and he in fact reached that goal.

Frick did so by ingratiating himself to the Pittsburgh elite of the day. He was for a time a clerk in a retail establishment, where he waited upon the well-to-do ladies of the city, and did so in such a way that he endeared himself to them. He went to Andy Mellon, whom he had befriended, for a loan of $20,000 to buy up some of the coke ovens in the Connellsville area. Andy took the idea to his father Judge Thomas and together they agreed to make the loan event though the fellow had no collateral.

As Frick’s fortunes improved he lived at the Monongahela House in Pittsburgh. Some of his future South Fork club memebers were also guests at or had buisness connnections with this hotel.

On December 15, 1881 Henry Clay Frick married Adelaide Howard Childs (1859 - 1931) in one of the notable weddings of the season...

For a portrait of Adelaide, scroll down to the last painting on this web page:

H C and Adelaide went to New York City as the first stop on their honneymoon and spent it visiting Andrew Carnegie at his hotel there (every bride’s dream, isn’t it?), and clinching the deal that brought Frick Coke under the wing of Carnegie Brothers and Frick under Carnegie’s watchful eye, if not thumb. This partnership ensured that Carnegie's steel mills had an adequate supply of (presumably reduced priced) coke. As a result of this agreement Frick eventually became chairman of the Carnegie Steel company. Cantankerous old Mrs. Carnegie felt there was not much in it for the Carnegie interests and told her still-bachelor son so. What poor sweet Adelaide thought of all of this remains unrecorded but we can guess.

It was Frick who formed the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club and began gathering its charter members. His share in the enterprise is sometimes minimized and it ought not to be. The first members were his especial friends and some were relatives connected through the huge and prolific Childs family.

H C Frick and Andrew Carnegie were both aggressive business competitors. It may have been inevitable that their partnership could not last.

The Fricks had four children but two died in infancy...

Childs Frick (1883-1965) all of the Frick family descend through him; he married Frances Shoemaker Dixon (1892-1953).

Martha Frick (1885-1891); baby Martha ingested a pin and died from compliactions of infection.

Helen Clay Frick (1888-1984) Miss Frick lived to be 95 and never married (see below)

Henry Clay Frick, Jr. (1892-1892)

Adelaide Childs Frick lapsed into chronic ill health and depression after the death her daughter Martha in 1891 and infant son H C Frick Jr. in the summer of 1892.

The Frick family moved to New York City in 1905.

The Flood, the death of little Martha, the Homestead Strike and the assassination attempt by Alexander Berkman (foiled by John G A Leishman, see the separate posting called “The Man Who Saved H C Frick”) all took their toll on Henry Clay Frick, a man who assumed that the millions he had vowed to make would somehow make him immune from life’s share of troubles. Bested by Carnegie in a much publicized lawsuit (which Carnegie claimed paid for his beloved Skibo Castle) Frick did as others had don and left for Manhattan with summers in Mount Desert Maine, thereafter. The family kept Clayton but returned to only for visits until Miss Helen Frick made her home there in her later years.

Frick was one of a number of South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club members who abandoned Pittsburgh as soon as they could, following the flood. More so than some, Frick kept his hand in Pittsburgh, and there are many architectural monuments that remind the 21st Century visitor of Frick’s presence. In addition to the Frick Building (built to cast a shadow on the Carnegie Building) which was designed by the leading architect of the day, Chicagoan Daniel Burnham, and togged out with a John Lafarge stained glass window of “Fortune at Her Wheel”, there are also the Union Trust Building, the William Penn Hotel and not one but two Frick Art Galleries. One is in the Oakland cultural district sandwiched between SFF&CHC member Andrew Carnegie’s library and music hall and Phipps’s Conservatory. The other stands on the Point Breeze grounds of the Frick family mansion, Clayton.

The reason for there being two different Frick art gallery buildings within five miles of each other in Pittsburgh is somewhat droll. Miss Frick gave the gallery in Oakland in her parents memory. As it was about to be finished she let it be known that she had selected paintings from her father’s Pittsburgh collection to hang in the gallery, now called The Frick Fine Arts building. You can read about it, here...

Miss Frick was informed that the gift of the building was most welcome but that the paintings (most of which were considered not of the first quality) were not required. And so in 1969 Miss Frick more or less duplicated the building in her own back yard at "Clayton" in Point Breeze, and hung her father’s pictures there, instead. Both can be toured today. Read more about it, here...

Former Carnegie Steel boss Henry Clay Frick died in New York on December 2, 1919, at age 69, leaving $20 million to public, educational, and charitable institutions at Pittsburgh. Not long before, his erstwhile business partner Andrew Carnegie had invited him to come a mile up Fifth Avenue for a visit in which they might make their peace, but Frick allegedly replied, "We'll meet in hell, to which we are both going."

Frick was buried in a small, private ceremony and then interred with exaggerated style at Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh, within hallooing distance of Clayton.

H.C. FRICK BURIED: Pittsburgh, Dec. 5,- The funeral of HENRY CLAY FRITH took place at the family residence, Clayton, at noon today, none but relatives and a few intimate friends of the family being present. The Rev. Dr. Edward J. Van Etten, of Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church, stood beside the plain coffin with its one wreath of flowers as he read the services and the music was by Mrs. Christine Miller Clemson*, of one of Mr. Frick's former business associates. Interment was in Homewood Cemetery.

*[Second wife of Daniel Clemson (1853-1936), a partner of Carnegie and a vice president of U.S. Steel Corp. His concert soloist second wife, some 23 years his junior, sang at Henry Clay Frick's funeral. Apparently Mr. Clemson was so enchanted by the church choir singing of Christine Miller that he anonymously paid her tuition to a leading conservatory. The pair married years later when Mr. Clemson, in true dramatic Victorian fashion, revealed that he had been Christine's secret benefactor. ]

The coffin iteslf was oversized and inordinatly heavy. It was interred in a vault that was then filled with tons of concrete. Frick wanted to be sure no one bothered him again.

One wonders if all the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club papers from the "missing" Johnstown Flood defense room at Reed, Smith, Shaw and McClay might have been encased in that tomb with him?

About to be deported, Alexander Berkman, Frick's would be assasin, was dining in Chicago with his fomer love anarchist Emma Goldman when told of the news of Frick's death. He replied that Frick had been "deported by God. I'm glad he left the country before me."

Frick's dutiful daughter Helen Clay Frick spent the many years of her long life keeping her father's image beautifully polished and hastened to sue anyone who breathed even a word of criticism about Henry Clay Frick. As a keeper of her father’s flame and a throwback to an era when all of Pittsburgh bowed in her fathers wake, Miss Frick was a formidable force of nature.

Little Pittsburgh society maidens of several generations – some of them SFF&HC descendents – were taken by their mothers and grandmothers for tea with Miss Frick – it was an agonizing and stultifying experience to hear them tell of it.

To her 15 grandnieces and nephews, Helen Clay Frick was a delightful but demanding maternal figure who dubbed herself "Grantie" for them. She served Earl Grey tea in the music room of "Clayton" her parents' Point Breeze estate, every afternoon and took them on memorable art tours of Europe's great museums. Although she was a formal Edwardian woman who shunned publicity, the diminutive heiress never shrank from a fight, especially to defend the image of her father, Henry Clay Frick, the oft-vilified tycoon whose hard-nosed tactics helped provoke the Homestead steel strike of 1892.

There are those who insist that the well-to-do family in the Phillip Barry film “Holiday” staring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant is based principally on the Frick family.

* * *

The real life Frick Family count these as members:

Dr. Henry Clay Frick II, son of Childs Frick and grandson of Henry Clay Frick, and his family:
-- Dr. Henry Clay Frick II of Alpine, N.J., previous longtime chairman of the board
-- Emily "Pemmy" Frick of Alpine, N.J., wife of Dr. Frick and trustee of The Frick Collection
-- Adelaide F. Trafton of Topsham, Maine, daughter of Dr. Frick and chairwoman of the

Helen Clay Frick Foundation Board and the board of the Frick Art & Historical Center
-- Henry Clay Frick III of Alaska, son of Dr. Frick and an environmentalist

Children of Frances Burden, daughter of Childs Frick and granddaughter of Henry Clay Frick:
-- I. Townsend Burden III of Washington, D.C., businessman and secretary of the foundation
-- Dixon Frick Burden of Telluride, Colo., businessman
-- Frances "Dixie" Burden of Rockport, Mass., who leads spiritual retreats for nuns and priests
Children of Martha Frick Symington, daughter of Childs Frick and granddaughter of Henry Clay Frick
-- Helen Clay Chace of Mt. Kisco, N.Y., also president of The Frick Collection in New York and docent at The Cloisters
-- Arabella Dane, a Boston horticulturist
-- J. Fife Symington III of Phoenix, former Arizona governor (refused request to resign from the board after he was convicted on six counts of fraud)

Son of Adelaide Blanchard, daughter of Childs Frick and granddaughter of Henry Clay Frick
-- Peter Blanchard III of New York City, environmentalist and trustee of The Frick Collection board

There is a photo of Adelaide Childs Frick in the L S Clarke series of photos of the Club that can be seen here:


maedeans said...

Recently I started watching old tapes recorded from "America's Castles" episodes. In the show about mining magnates, the Clayton mansion in Pittsburgh is featured. The viewing led me here to read more about the life of Henry Clay Frick.

Paul said...

In response to you profile message outlining your interest in correspondence with individual claiming ancestral connections with SFF&HC members.

I'm wondering, have you ever read any reference to the Frick name having been anglicized? I have a similar anglicized surname, and ancestors from Donora and Connellsville.

Vicomte Flesym said...

Thank you both for your comments. Maedeans, yes, "America's Castles" is a great series; I admire the work of Scott Galloway who was its producer. Paul, while I know that the Overholt name was anglicized from Oberholtzer, I was not aware of that happening with the Frick name.

RichW9090 said...

Interesting that in the list of the children of Martha Frick Symington, you left out Martha Frick Symington Sanger, to whom we are indebted for her wondeful books on the Frick family - the biographies of Henry Clay Frick and Helen Clay Frick, as well as the book on the Frick Mansions.

RichW9090 said...

Interesting that in the list of the children of Martha Frick Symington, you left out Martha Frick Symington Sanger, to whom we are indebted for her wondeful books on the Frick family - the biographies of Henry Clay Frick and Helen Clay Frick, as well as the book on the Frick Mansions.