Henry Clay Frick, once known by critics as “America’s most hated man” and one of the “worst American CEO’s of all time”, was an Industrialist and an art patron. Frick was born in West Overton, Pennsylvania, on December 19, 1849. At the age of 21, Frick, his two cousins and a friend, set out on their first business venture, Frick Coke Company, turning coal into coke using a beehive oven for use in steel manufacturing. Frick had big dreams and vowed to be a self made millionaire by the age of 30. While on his honeymoon, Frick met and befriended Andrew Carnegie, the two created a partnership between Frick Coke Company and Carnegie Steel Company. Frick supplied Carnegie’s steel mills with coke and in turn Frick became the chairman of the company.
Frick’s luck changed in July, 1892 when workers from Carnegie steel went on a labor strike. Frick’s anti-union policy and lack of negotiation skills caused him to hire three hundred Pinkerton detectives (private U.S. security guards) to be sent to handle the confrontation. Unfortunately, several Pinkertons and nine steel workers were killed. After this altercation, Frick’s actions were highly criticized as being excessive and he became a fast target for union organizers.
On July 23, 1892, Emma Goldman and anarchist Alexander Berkman (both characters in “Ragtime”) plotted to assassinate Frick in revenge of the steelworkers killed by Frick’s hired Pinkerton detectives. Berkman went to Frick’s Pittsburg office armed with a revolver and a sharpened steel file; he shot the gun twice hitting Frick once in the earlobe and the neck, Frick was also stabbed four times in the leg by the steel file before he was able to escape with the help of Carnegie Steel’s vice president, John George Alexander Leishman. This event is discussed in “Ragtime” by Emma Goldman to Evelyn Nesbit. Emma explains her aversion of Frick and extreme disappointment that her assassination plan was not successful.
Frick’s home located on Fifth Avenue and 70th Street in New York City, known as The Frick Collection, to this day houses one of the finest art collections of European paintings in the entire United States. It contains art dating as far back as the pre-Renaissance up through the post-Impressionist era.