Prelude to Homestead
The year Harrison was elected a changing of the guard also took place at Carnegie Brothers. It was one event in a series of management changes, some by design and some forced by fate, over the next two years that would profoundly affect Carnegie's operations and his legacy. Exhausted from a near-thirty-year battle in iron and steel, Harry Phipps, who had replaced Tom Carnegie as chairman of Carnegie Brothers, retired on October 16, 1888. Nevertheless, he would remain a partner and an active promoter of the firm's interests. 1 Carnegie's longtime friend David Stewart was elected chairman, but then Stewart died unexpectedly. To fill the sudden vacuum in upper management, Carnegie turned to Frick, who, on January 14, 1889, was elected president of Carnegie Brothers. Under him was the Edgar Thomson operation as well as his coke firm, a daunting challenge.
No doubt Frick knew the steel business or Carnegie would never have selected him, but in his first months in office he was tentative and actually admitted to Carnegie that “I have many things to ask you about.” 2 Such an admission tickled Carnegie, and he let loose with a barrage of the usual advice on running full, wages, railroad rates, and coke costs. Before Frick had been in office six months, he was compelled to forcibly cut Carnegie off: “I cannot stand fault-finding and I must feel that I have the entire confidence of the power that put me where I am, in a place I did not seek. With all that, I know that I can manage both Carnegie Brothers and Co. and Frick Coke Co. successfully.” 3 Carnegie eased off quickly, and the next month he acknowledged Frick's worth: “Let me express the relief I feel in knowing that the important departments of our extended business are in the hands of a competent manager. Phipps and I exchanged congratulations upon this point. Now I only want to know how your hands can be strengthened.” 4 These flattering words echoed precisely what Carnegie had written to Shinn a decade earlier—and Shinn's ejection had been a messy one.