Tuesday, February 21, 2012

henry flagler

When Henry Morrison Flagler was born in Hopewell New York in January 1830, he didn't have a "silver spoon"
in his mouth.
Thomas Jefferson had only been dead for 31/2 years, Andrew Jackson was President of the United States (there were only 23 states), Davey Crockett was a Congressman and the battle at the Alamo wasn't about to happen for another 6 years.
This is some really old old stuff and I love it.

Flagler statue beside the SteamPlant in Key West

With an 8th grade education, at age 14, Henry went to work at his uncle Lamon G. Harkness' grain store in Ohio for really grunt wages, $5/month. Within 5 years though, he was promoted to the sales staff and his salary rose to $400/month.

Smelling the odor of opportunity, in 1862, Henry left Ohio to start the "Flagler & York Salt Company" in Michigan.
See, there was no refrigeration back then and so to keep meats fresh, it was packed in salt. Sensing the increased demand for salt packed meats with the American Civil War going on, Henry got in on it. But when the war ended in 1865, the demand for salt ended with it. The "Flagler & York Salt Company" collapsed and Henry was $100k in the hole.
But what does he say, "hells bells I'm a failure" and plant his head in the sand? Nope, he tells himself he must be more thorough when investigating possible investments.

Henry Flagler, wife Mary (behind) & her sister Isabelle, c.1850

Anyway, Henry headed back to his uncle's grain company in Ohio where before too long he met John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller needed capital to start an oil refining business in Cleveland (at that time the oil refinery capitol of the world). Flagler borrowed and invested $100,000 and, in time, the venture became the monopolistic "Standard Oil".
I'm guessing that at this point, money was no longer an issue for Henry.
This was the beginning of was America's Guilded Age.

Toward the middle of the 1870s, Flagler's first wife (he'd ultimately have 3) Flagler's first wife, Mary, became seriously ill. Her doctor recommended the couple travel to the warmer climates of Florida for the winter. They did but Mary continued to fade and after a few years she died.

Henry in his prime

After a couple of years Henry remarried. This time to Ida who was one of Mary's caregivers. For their honeymoon, the couple traveled to St. Augustine, Florida. He loved the place but found it's accommodations and transportation system wanting.
So he invested in and built the "Ponce De León", a 540 room luxury hotel and then bought three short line railroads to carry visitors to it.
And that was the start of the "Florida East Coast Railway".

Over the next several years Henry expanded his holdings in Florida; buying a hotel here building a hotel there and, all the while, extending the range of the railway south along the Florida coast until by 1894 the Flagler franchise stretched as far south as West Palm.
Still, 60 miles south was an unincorporated little town. Henry again extended the railway, dredged mangroves, built roads developed a city and opened the "Royal Palm Hotel" in 1897. That city? Miami.
Henry is remembered as the "father of Miami".

Now it was time to take a break. Henry divorced Ida on grounds of insanity and married his third wife, Mary Lily and built her a 55 room home in Palm Beach as a wedding present.
The year was 1902.

Flagler disembarks the train in Key West

In 1905 the U.S. Government started digging the Panama Canal and again Henry Flagler smelled the odor of opportunity. If he could extend his railway to Key West, he might cash in on trade from Cuba and South America and from the west, that the completed canal was sure to bring.
Key West was the closest deep water port to the canal.

So down went another 156 miles of track, mostly over water, and in 1912 one of the most ambitious engineering projects, the "Florida OverSeas Railway" was complete.
Henry took the train ride himself that same year and Key West gave him a hero's welcome.

Key West turns out to greet Henry Flagler

The next year, 1913 at age 83, Flagler fell down a flight of marble stairs in his home in Palm Beach.
(God, it hurts just to write that!)
The fall ultimately killed him. He is buried in St. Augustine beside his first wife Mary.

a matured & successful Henry Flagler

The year Henry Flagler died, Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States, the U.S. Government introduced the income tax, the Brooklyn Dodgers opened Ebbets Field, Charlie Chaplin began his film career and WWI was still a year in the future.
This is some really old old stuff and I love it.

1 comment:

Kevin Kemner said...

Hi Art,
A nice notation of interesting facts about a remarkable man! Thanks, KK