Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America

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9780739319727: Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America

Here is history that reads like fiction: the riveting story of two founding fathers of American industry—Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick—and the bloody steelworkers’ strike that transformed their fabled partnership into a furious rivalry. Author Les Standiford begins at the bitter end, when the dying Carnegie proposes a final meeting after two decades of separation, probably to ease his conscience. Frick’s reply: “Tell him that I’ll meet him in hell.”

It is a fitting epitaph. Set against the backdrop of the Gilded Age, a time when Horatio Alger preached the gospel of upward mobility and expansionism went hand in hand with optimism, Meet You in Hell is a classic tale of two men who embodied the best and worst of American capitalism. Standiford conjures up the majesty and danger of steel manufacturing, the rough-and-tumble of late-nineteenth-century big business, and the fraught relationship of “the world’s richest man” and the ruthless coke magnate to whom he entrusted his companies. Enamored of Social Darwinism, the emerging school of thought that applied the notion of survival of the fittest to human society, both Carnegie and Frick would introduce revolutionary new efficiencies and meticulous cost control to their enterprises, and would quickly come to dominate the world steel market.

But their partnership had a dark side, revealed most starkly by their brutal handling of the Homestead Steel Strike of 1892. When Frick, acting on Carnegie’s orders to do whatever was necessary, unleashed three hundred Pinkerton detectives, the result was the deadliest clash between management and labor in U.S. history. WHILE BLOOD FLOWED, FRICK SMOKED ran one newspaper headline. The public was outraged. An anarchist tried to assassinate Frick. Even today, the names Carnegie and Frick cannot be uttered in some union-friendly communities.

Resplendent with tales of backroom chicanery, bankruptcy, philanthropy, and personal idiosyncrasy, Meet You in Hell is a fitting successor to Les Standiford’s masterly Last Train to Paradise. Artfully weaving the relationship of these titans through the larger story of a young nation’s economic rise, Standiford has created an extraordinary work of popular history.
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Review:

The relationship between industrialists Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick is an illuminating window on American capitalism as well as a fascinating study of how a strong partnership can give way to vicious acrimony. Les Standiford tells the story of the two men in Meet You in Hell, a book that draws its title from Frick's angry rejoinder to Carnegie's late-in-life attempt at reconciliation. Carnegie and Frick, in Standiford's estimation, represented all that was good and bad in American capitalism. They were self-made men, rising from blue-collar backgrounds to become titans in the burgeoning American steel industry, some of the wealthiest men in the world, and loyal partners, even if they were always somewhat short of being actual friends. But they were also pivotal figures in the infamous Homestead Steel strike, where Frick, acting on implicit orders from Carnegie, dispatched hundreds of private security guards into a testy labor situation, resulting in mayhem and death on all sides and forever casting a pall over the history of American labor relations. While Carnegie and Frick's acumen in getting rich is given due credit, Standiford also tells of the workers who were exploited or killed in that same effort. Standiford presents Carnegie and Frick without prejudice, demonstrating their fierce competitiveness, short tempers, business savvy, and troublesome character flaws. The reader also comes to realize that, although there were some negligible differences, the two men are so similar and so powerful that a falling out was inevitable. Meet You in Hell is a valuable insight into the ideas and personalities that shaped American industrialization as well as an interesting parallel to a contemporary economic reality where American jobs, particularly in the manufacturing sector, are threatened and often lost to overseas labor. --John Moe

About the Author:

Les Standiford is the author of the critically acclaimed Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad That Crossed an Ocean, as well as ten novels, most recently Havana Run. Recipient of the Frank O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, he is director of the Creative Writing Program at Florida International University in Miami, where he lives with his wife and three children. 

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