Frank Work Dead of Pneumonia at 92 (obit)

Ancestor of Princess Diana

Frank Work, merchant, broker, banker was an American ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales


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"Frank Work Dead of Pneumonia at 92" (obit), New York Times, 17 Mar 1911, page 9

"Financier Left A Fortune of $15,000,000 Made by Aid of Commodore Vanderbilt"

"Owner of Famous Horses"

"Rose From Poor Boy to Rich Merchant and Stock Speculator -- Father of Mrs P Hewitt and Mrs Burke Roche"

"Frank Work, who started life as the son of a poor widow in an Ohio country town, and who subsequently became by sheer force of personality civil engineer, dry goods merchant, Vanderbilt protege, one of the richest members of the New York Stock Exchange, and owner of famous trotting horses, died yesterday at his home, 13 East Twenty-sixth Street, from pneumonia, at the age of 92.

"He had been confined to his bed for several weeks.  At his bedside when he died were his two children, Mrs Peter Cooper Hewitt and Mrs Burke Roche.  He had been quite well until recently, and during last Summer and early Autumn was frequently seen enjoying the sunlight and foilage of Madison Square, opposite which his city home was.

"Few residents can boast so dramatic and varied a life as Frank Work enjoyed during his ninety-two years.  He was born on Feb 10, 1819, in "Dogsburg", a not overprosperous section of the Ohio town of Chillicothe.  His father, a civil engineer, died when he was a mere lad, leaving his mother to take care of him and his elder brother, Clinton.  Both boys were bright, but Frank, through his youthful adventurousness, was looked upon by the town merchants as a marvel of daring, performing feats of swimming in local creeks and riding village horses bareback under circumstances which set the little town agog, and which caused him several times to be vainly persued on horseback by the town Marshal.

"Becomes A Dry Goods Merchant"

"When he was 15 years old he went to Columbus, and three years later came to this city and took work in the dry goods store of W.J. Daily, whom he had previously known as a Chillicothe merchant.  Having a strong body and alert mind, he rose rapidly, and the firm after some years became that of Daily & Work.  It is typical of the unusual nature of his career, however, that he owed his greatest piece of good fortune -- his friendship with Commodore Vanderbilt -- not to his business diligence, but to his love of fine horses.

"Almost as soon as the dry goods firm became prosperous, although he was only its junior partner, he began spending his earnings from the business in club life about town, and especially in the purchase of fast horses, which he proceeded to drive along the fine roads and trotting tracks which existed in those days -- the fifties -- in the upper part of the town.  He raced with other amateur fast horse drivers whom he met on the roads.  One of those was Commodore Vanderbilt.  After racing each other, young Work, Vanderbilt, and other sportsmen of the time would meet in Burnham's roadhouse, at Bloomingdale Road and Seventy-sixth Street for refreshment.

"During the panic of 1873 the dry goods firm of Daily & Work could not stand the strain and was near bankruptcy.  Mr Work went to Commodore Vanderbilt and asked for aid.  Vanderbilt not only lent Mr Work enough money to save the dry goods firm, but, soon after, persuaded him to sell out and devote his time to speculating in stocks following Vanderbilt's suggestions.  This is the way Mr Work made his fortune -- estimate yesterday at $15,000,000.  Vanderbilt furnished the money Work needed for his margins, and Work soon made enough to start a banking firm with William Y Strong, the son of another Chillicothe merchant.  The names of the various banking and brokerage firms with which he was subsequently connected were : Work, Davis & Barton; Frank Work & Co; Scott, Strong & Co; and Strong, Sturgis & Co.

His Love for Fast Horses

"With the wealth amassed in this way he could afford to give his love for fast horses free rein.  The two 2:16 1/4 trotters, Edward and Dick Swiveller, which he bought in 1878, were among his famous pairs.  Others of his well-known horses were Sensation, Billy Freer, Pilot Boy, Marie Moore, and Barnetta.  It is typical of the sincerity of his horsemanship that he always did his own driving and his own buying.  When his favorite horse, Dick Swiveller, died, Mr Work, although 80 years old, himself spent the whole night in the dying animal's stable.  The elaborateness of his $100,000 West Fifth-sixth Street stable, opposite Carnegie Hall, was the talk of the horse-racing fraternity for years.  It is built of Wyoming rock, the doors being of oak and bronze.  The windows are of beveled plate glass and bronze.  The inside is walled with quartered oak, heated by steam, and lighted by gas in silver lanterns.  The building also contained a dining room, sleeping room, and bathroom for the owner's convenience.

"Although Mr Work was one of the poorest boys of his home town, he later married the daughter of one of its wealthiest men.  This was Miss Ellen Wood, the daughter of John Wood of Chillicothe.  After her father's death she and her mother came to this city to live.  Mr Work had already attained wealth.  The marriage took place in 1857.

"Besides his two daughters, Mr Work leaves two grandchildren, Maurice and Frank, the sons of Mrs Burke Roche.  His only son, George, died about six years ago.  He was a member of the Manhattan, New York Yacht, and New York Athletic Clubs, and a Director in the Chicago & Northwestern and in the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroads.  He scorned automobiles, and had an eccentricity -- strange in a horseman -- of driving on the wrong side of the road.  Of late years he was frequently inveighed against the business invasion of the Madison Square neighborhood, which, when he first moved into his big house there, was a wholly residential section."

-- transcribed by Will Johnson, 16 Sep 2009, from the original image in the New York Times