January 14, 2021 Organ Note

Kings of America and their Organs

Joseph Keppler, The Bosses of the Senate, 1889. The cartoon depicts corporate interests from steel, coal, copper and other interests as giant money bags looming over the tiny senators. The cartoon reflected the phenomenal growth of American industry in the 1880s, the disturbing trend towards monopolies and the undue influence on politics.

Andrew Carnegie (1836-1919) and Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919). The King of Steel and the King of Coke. One born in poverty; the other in privilege. But they were a lot alike. Ambitious; shrewd; ruthless; visionary. And, above all, successful.

They joined forces. They became business partners. Together, they integrated steel production. Carnegie provided the mills and furnaces to forge steel. Frick provided the coke ovens and coal mines to fuel Carnegie’s plants. Together they produced more steel than all of Great Britain.

And together they broke labor unions, increased the work hours of their laborers by as much as 50% while reducing their wages, also by as much as 50%. Their profits were huge.

Their actions turned the towns of Steel Valley into dank districts. The skies darkened with polluted haze; the streets stank with human waste; the rivers flowed with filth; typhoid ran rampant. Pittsburgh, at the center of Steel Valley, was known as “Hell with the Lid Off.”

They both made their fortunes in Steel Valley. And then they both left. Carnegie went first, building a mansion in New York City on 5th Avenue in 1902. Frick moved to New York City three years later, first renting a mansion and then building his own, also on 5th Avenue.

The houses of both men had organs. Carnegie had been attracted to the organ from childhood when he attended church with his parents. His vacation house in northern Scotland already contained an organ at the time Carnegie purchased it. For their first visit to their Scottish home, Louise Carnegie, Andrew’s wife, hired an organist. Without telling her husband, Louise arranged for the organist to play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony as Andrew and she stepped over the threshold on their arrival day. The organist became a permanent employee, arriving before breakfast and greeting the Carnegies with hymns and oratorios as they arose and returning for a dinnertime performance. So much did Carnegie like hearing the organ that he quickly installed a three manual, forty four rank organ in his $1.5 million New York City house. His house organist, Walter C. Gale, was to become a wealthy man himself. Carnegie’s house is now a museum, the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. Its organ was removed and stored. Its pipework is now damaged beyond repair.

Frick’s vacation house was on Boston’s North Shore. The house had a three-manual, forty-four-rank organ. Like Carnegie, Frick hired a house organist. Archer Gibson received $15,000 to play twice a day, seven days a week, for the summer. Frick’s New York City house was subsequently equipped with a four-manual, seventy-two-rank organ. It was the largest residence organ in New York City. Once again, Gibson played twice a day, seven days a week. After a few years, Gibson quit, saying that his nerves had gotten the better of him. At Gibson’s departure, Frick installed a roll-player on the organ. It wasn’t the same, and Frick grew to hate the roll-player sound. Frick’s house is now a museum, the Frick Collection. Its organ is rarely played.

Carnegie and Frick had become partners in 1881. In 1889 Carnegie chose Frick to be chairman of Carnegie Steel. 1899 Carnegie ousted Frick. He also wanted Frick’s stock and maneuvered to buy it at a fraction of its worth. They became rivals and bitter enemies. Two decades later, a dying Carnegie proposed a final meeting to repair their friendship. Frick’s reply: “Tell him that I’ll meet him in hell.”

We look forward to the day when we will meet in our church sanctuary and hear our new organ. And Charles’ expertise will lift our spirits. We hope Charles will continue with steady nerves.

Read past organ notes here.