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Henry Clay Frick 'respected and hated'

Kim Leonard
| Sunday, Dec. 16, 2007

Henry Clay Frick's lasting imprint on Pittsburgh's growth, and on its steel and coal industries and the nation's labor movement, remains a matter for debate 88 years after his death.

"So many people see him in different ways," said August R. Carlino, whose Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area runs tours of sites from the 1892 Homestead steelworkers' strike.

"A successful capitalist, a person who was unconcerned with the work-safety conditions and lives of people employed by him," Carlino said. "He is a man who is both respected and hated, depending on the group you talk to."

Born Dec. 19, 1849, in West Overton in Westmoreland County, Frick borrowed money at age 21 for a venture to turn coal into the coke used in steelmaking. His H.C. Frick & Co. grew to 1,000 employees and partnered in 1881 with Andrew Carnegie's steel business, though the events at Homestead soured their relationship.

Striking Carnegie Steel Co. workers and supporters overtook the factory. Frick hired 300 armed Pinkerton guards who landed by barge at the plant on July 6, 1892, and seven workers and three guards died before state militia ended the battle.

Though Carnegie had told him to end the strike, Frick was criticized for his union-busting tactics. Anarchist Alexander Berkman attacked him on July 23, 1892, at his Downtown office, and Frick survived being shot twice and stabbed.

"His legacy in Pittsburgh was very good news, bad news" because of the labor unrest, said Frick's great-granddaughter, Martha Frick Symington Sanger, who has authored three books about the family.

"I wish for him that he had been part of the reform movement, in more humanitarian treatment of workers," she said, though Frick also was known for philanthropy, including inviting underprivileged children to his home for holiday meals.

Frick and his wife, Adelaide, had four children, including a son, Childs, and daughter, Helen; the two others, Martha and Henry Jr., died in childhood. The family moved in 1905 from Clayton, their Point Breeze mansion, to New York, where Frick continued to build his internationally known art collection.

The city has many reminders of Frick. He built not only the Frick Building but the Union Trust Building and William Penn Hotel, Downtown, and his partnership with Carnegie led to the founding of United States Steel, said Greg Langel, spokesman for the Frick Art & Historical Center. Clayton is part of the center's campus.

At Helen Clay Frick's request, he gave nearly 600 acres to the city for Frick Park. And when he died Dec. 2, 1919, Frick left most of his fortune to charities in New York, Pittsburgh and the region where he was born. Additional Information:

Pitt fact

Henry Clay Frick's grandfather, Abraham Overholt, produced a well-known whiskey at his distillery in Broad Ford in Fayette County. What is it called?

A. Wild Turkey

B. Broad Ford Gold

C. Old Overholt

D. The brew had no name

Answer: C

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