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Frank L. Fay
from History of Northwestern Pennsylvania comprising the counties of Erie, Crawford, Mercer, Venango, Warren, Forest, Clarion, McKean, Elk, Jefferson, Cameron and Clearfield
by Joseph Riesenman, Jr., 1943, pp. 117-119
return to Patrick's page
FRANK L. FAY--Greenville owes much to the efforts of Frank L. Fay, founder and for many years president of the Greenville Steel Car Company, the city's largest industry, former State Senator and a generous friend of Greenville institutions. From the modest circumstances of his early life, he has risen to national prominence in American industry, and it has been the
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privilege of his adopted city to share in the constructive influences of his career.
Mr. Fay, whose rise to success follows the fictional pattern of the Horatio Alger, Jr., stories, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, July 18, 1869, son of Patrick and Mary (Murray) Fay. He received a public school education, terminated at the age of fourteen, when he put aside his textbooks to become a messenger for the Western Union Telegraph Company in Cleveland. In leisure moments he practiced telegraphy, finally qualifies as an operator and not long afterward secured a position as telegraph operator on the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railway (Nickel Plate). In due time he was appointed station agent and operator at Wallace Junction, near Girard, Pennsylvania, where the line of the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad, then called the Pittsburgh, Sherango & Lake Erie used the line of the Nickel Plate from Wallace Junction to Cascade Junction, at the edge of the city of Erie. As a result there was a heavy interchange of traffic at Wallace Junction, although the station there was far from pretentious. It was, in fact, a retired box car.
While serving at Wallace Junction, Mr. Fay began to acquire a considerable reputation as an expert in locating lost cares. Consequently, the company, at intervals, sent him away from his home box car to track down missing cars. Learning of his successful record, the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad, as it is now known, offered him the post of chief car accountant at the operating offices of the line in Greenville. This offer he accepted and for several years filled the position with his characteristic energy and acumen.
A new chapter in his career soon opened, however. At Greenville there was a large plant, covering fourteen acres, standing idle and rusting away. It had been the master mill of the Shelby Weldless Tube Company, which had dominated the seamless tube industry of the United States. Almost overnight this company had moved away, leaving a group of large buildings and railroad tracks. For some years the plant remained an eyesore and a sad reminder to the community of the flourishing industry once located there. This was the situation when Mr. Fay conceived the idea of doing something about it on his own account. He decided to buy the abandoned property and initiate manufacturing operations of some kind. What kind he did not exactly know, having had no experience in manufacturing anything. Nevertheless, on a veritable shoestring, he bought the plant and resigned his railroad position, a life job increasing in importance almost daily with the growth of the railroad and paying a salary which was for those days quite attractive. His friends, unanimously, thought him crazy.
There were many times in the succeeding years when the course of action he had adopted seemed like folly in the nth degree. Mr. Fay's company made a variety of things, small parts for automobiles, automobile frames; experimented with a novel idea, a self-starter for automobiles that did almost everything but start; built on contract the Empire automobile; then made the Fay car, to mention only a few of its products. Almost all of these were good products, mechanically speaking, but they failed to take hold in a large way. There was always chronic payroll trouble. Still, the company kept growing. When finally the facilities of the plant were turned over to the repair of steel cars, the upturn in the company's fortunes was prompt and striking.
Just then, after all the lean years, Mr. Fay's out-of-town associates decided to eliminate him from what seemed to be an assuredly successful business and become its sole owners. Naturally, Mr. Fay did not agree. There were a series of conferences. Finally an ultimatum was issued. Mr. Fay could either buy or sell, and the deadline was set for three o'clock of a certain afternoon. This gage of battle was accepted. Mr. Fay rather dramatized the proceedings and the opposing faction beamed with the prospect of sure victory. In the drawer of his desk, however, reposed a certified check for the agreed selling price, which was by no means a small one. It rested alone, since Mr. Fay had cleaned out every other scrap of paper so that there could be no mistake at the culminating moment. He had even taking [sic] the precaution of dog-earing one corner of the check in order that he could grasp it more firmly and surely. Then came the zero hour, just before the clock struck. As he had planned it, Mr. Fay pulled open the drawer, handed the check across the table and remarked: "Gentlemen, I'm buying."
It was in 1916 that Mr. Fay became practically sole owner of the works and the Greenville Steel Car Company was born. The repair business of the company expanded spectacularly, but the operations of the Greenville Steel Car Company did not stop there. It began to build railroad cars and soon was a real factor in the steel car industry, employing hundreds of men on a liberal wage basis and more than filling the gap caused by the departure of the Shelby Weldless Tube Company, whose abandoned plant it had taken over. Not only were the standard types of gondola, flat car and box car manufactured, but a number of special types were also built for the larger railroads. Although Mr. Fay eventually sold out his extensive business, the foundation had been laid and the impetus given. Only recently that plant built the largest steel car ever made in the world.
Mr. Fay retired from the presidency of the Greenville Steel Car Company in 1925, but continued to serve as chairman of the board of the organization, which had become Greenville's largest industry and one of the largest in northwest Pennsylvania, employing several hundred workers. Mr. Fay also became a director of the Pittsburgh Forgings Company and other corporations.
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These connections, however, occupied only part of his time. Much of it was given to civic service embracing a wide sphere of interests. At Greenville, he became president of the Board of Trade, now the Chamber of Commerce, headed the Greenville Library Board and the Greenville Hospital Board, served as chairman of the local chapter of the American Red Cross, directed numerous community drives and lent effective support to virtually all useful community institutions. With his associates, he presented to the Greenville Post of the American Legion the fine post which it now occupies. Mr. Fay also became president of the board of trustees of Thiel College which conferred upon him an honorary degree in Business Administration. In 1926, with his election to the Pennsylvania State Senate, he entered public life and added to his stature during eight years of service at Harrisburg. Reelected in 1930, he rounded out two terms as State Senator, in the course of which he became chairman of the important committee on railroads and a member of the committees on appropriations, banks and building and loan associations, canals and inland navigation, Congressional apportionment, corporations, education, judicial apportionment, law and order, mines and mining, municipal affairs, pensions and gratuities, public roads and highways and public supply of light, heat and water. Between these activities at home he found time to do much traveling abroad, having crossed the Atlantic thirty times. In 1927 he was the first American to visit the Caucasus region in Russia since the fall of the Tzar. In 1936 he crossed the Atlantic in the Zeppelin "von Hindenburg," and in 1938 flew from Southampton, England, to San Franciso, the first ticket issued for such service.
For a number of years, Mr. Fay served on the advisory board of the American Peace Society. He is affiliated fraternally with the Free and Accepted Masons and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and is a member of the Greenville Rotary Club, the Bankers Club of America in New York City, the Duquesne Club of Washington, District of Columbia. In 1940 he relinquished all active business connections and civic posts, but has remained an important and familiar figure in Greenville life. On November 11, 1941, he was awarded by the American Legion, Department of Pennsylvania, a certificate of distinguished service rendered the community, the first time the award had been made to a citizen of Greenville.
In 1896 Mr. Fay married Marie Wells, of Buffalo, New York. They are the parents of four children: Helen, Wells, James, and Florence.