In the Kingdom of Coal: An American Family and the Rock That Changed the World

By Dan Rottenberg | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7

The Ambitions of Henry Clay Frick

Henry Clay Frick’s contemporaries always felt there was something not quite human about him. “No man on earth could get close to him or fathom him” the extroverted steel magnate Charles M. Schwab told an interviewer in the 1930s, long after Frick died. “He seemed more like a machine, without emotion or impulses. Absolutely cold-blooded. He had good foresight and was an excellent bargainer…. His assets were that he was a thinking machine, methodical as a comptometer, accurate, cutting straight to the point…the most methodical thinking machine I have ever known. ”

In some respects Frick was the nineteenth-century forerunner of an executive type that became widespread in the late twentieth century: the “pure entrepreneur”—like, say, Saul Steinberg, Charles Bluhdorn, or Jack Welch—whose pursuit of growth and profits is unfettered by sentimental attachment to any particular industry, company, or product. But Frick was so far ahead of his own time that he baffled and intimidated almost everyone who crossed his path—including his parents and, as we shall see, the Leisenrings. Even today it is difficult to pinpoint the precise forces of heredity and environment that created Frick’s exceptional business personality.

He was born in 1849, the year of the California Gold Rush and a watershed moment in the psychology of the Western world. Gold, unlike coal, possessed little intrinsic value at that time. But if only by virtue of the glittering spell it cast upon people, gold had served as a universally favored backing for currency since ancient times. Its supply had long been presumed to be finite, but in the five years after the Gold Rush began, more than half a billion dollars would be taken out of California; over the next

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In the Kingdom of Coal: An American Family and the Rock That Changed the World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents iii
  • Leisenring and Givens Family Trees ix
  • Chronology xi
  • Part I 11
  • Chapter 1 - A Rock That Burns 13
  • Chapter 2 - A Passage from the Mines 21
  • Chapter 3 - Holy Trinity 29
  • Chapter 4 - Boy Wonder of the Anthracite 37
  • Chapter 5 - Souls in Darkness 47
  • Chapter 6 - A Road Not Taken 57
  • Part II 65
  • Chapter 7 - The Ambitions of Henry Clay Frick 67
  • Chapter 8 - At War in the Coke Fields 75
  • Part III 99
  • Chapter 9 - Starting Over 101
  • Chapter 10 - The Rise of John L. Lewis 115
  • Chapter 11 - Utopia Goes Union 135
  • Chapter 12 - Be Careful What You Wish For 165
  • Chapter 13 - Prelude to Murder 187
  • Part IV 207
  • Chapter 14 - The Age of Uncertainty 209
  • Chapter 15 - Riding the Roller Coaster 231
  • Chapter 16 - Nowhere to Hide 245
  • Principal Characters 267
  • Notes 273
  • Bibliography 315
  • Acknowledgments 319
  • Index 321
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