H.C. Frick: America’s Most Hated Man

By Samuel Phineas Upham

Henry Clay Frick is best known today for the extensive art collection he donated to the city of New York, as well as his mansion and its furnishings to be used as a public art gallery. The gallery is small compared to most modern museums, but the collection of old master paintings is still something worth celebrating.


He earned the title of “Most Hated Man” through two specific actions. The first took place in 1889, but the buildup began a few years prior. Frick had created a fishing club, which included Andrew Carnegie and a few of his friends. Frick was a business partner of Carnegie’s, and, although Carnegie didn’t acknowledge it much, Frick was responsible for much of Carnegie’s fortunes. His fishing club consisted of roughly 60 members, who came across a dam in need of repair.

It happened that this dam was positioned near Johnstown, which was home to a steel rival of Andrew Carnegie. While there is little direct evidence to prove otherwise, historical documents suggest strongly that this fishing group made inadequate repairs to the dam, and, when heavy winter snows fell, the dam burst.

The second incident occurred three years later. Frick and Carnegie were arguing over how to deal with the Homestead Steel Strike, which got so bad that both sides were armed. Frick decided to hire Pinkerton strike detectives (notoriously violent men who existed solely to break up striking workers), and a small scuffle ensued that ended in the deaths of nine workers.

An assassination attempt was later made on Frick over this incident. Frick survived two gunshot wounds to the neck, and four stab wounds to the leg as he and an associate wrestled with his assailant. The attempt brought discredit to the worker’s movement, and made labor unpopular in the press. As a result, the public chose to express their general discontent with a moniker they felt fit the man.

About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Samuel Phineas Upham website or LinkedIn.