George Frick and His Steam Empire

Let’s Talk Rusty Iron: George Frick’s journey from humble beginnings to founding the successful Frick Co.

| March 2012

Of the hundreds of companies that built farm equipment over the years, those surviving today can almost be counted on the fingers of one hand. One of these survivors, and an unlikely one at that, is the Frick Co., Waynesboro, Pa.

George Frick was born in 1826 on a large farm in Lancaster County, Pa., that had been in his family for almost 100 years. Then, in 1835, Abraham Frick, his father, bought a farm in the Cumberland Valley near Quincy, Pa., a tiny village about 20 miles west of Gettysburg.

The elder Frick dammed a stream on the new farm and built a water wheel with which he powered an up-and-down-type sawmill. Abraham also used the water wheel to run a pump that lifted water from a well to his house.

Young George had little formal education, but he was good at math and had natural mechanical aptitude. At 17, he apprenticed himself to a millwright in nearby Maryland. After two years, George felt confident enough to move back to Quincy, where he went into business for himself. He was kept busy traveling around Franklin County, Pa., where there were some 75 grist or flour mills that frequently needed the attention of a skilled millwright. However, in 1848, George gave up traveling and took over an old building where he built horse powers, along with fanning mills for cleaning grain.

Inspired by teakettle: the Frick steam engine

In December 1849, George married and settled down to wedded bliss. In this happy state, while watching a teakettle whistle on the stove, he supposedly got the idea for his next project, a steam engine. Most accounts say that it was doubtful if George had ever seen such an engine, but he determined to build one.

Accordingly, in 1850, George drew plans and either made his own castings or had them made. He bored the cylinder on his lathe, using a homemade boring bar (some say the lathe was foot-powered, others horse-powered). The flat surfaces, such as the crosshead and guides, were cut with a hammer and chisel and hand-filed flat. George even fashioned a governor for his engine.


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