Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Frick Company Records


Collection ID:
Frick Company, George (Waynesboro, Pa.)
bulk 1860-1920
Collection is in
. Some materials are printed in
Physical Description:
26 Cubic feet
49 boxes, 4 oversize folders
This collection documents, in correspondence, publications, forms, paperwork, drawings, newspaper clippings, diplomas and photographs, the operations and products of the Frick Company of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, manufacturers of steam-powered engines (portable, stationary, and traction), sawmills, threshing machines, grain separators and other mechanized agricultural harvesting implements, refrigeration, mechanical cooling systems, and ice making plants, from its founding in 1852 through 1961.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents
This collection documents the founding and business operations of the Frick Company* of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, manufacturers of portable, stationary, and traction engines, threshing machines, sawmills, and refrigeration and ice making machinery. The collection covers the period from 1852 to 1961, with the bulk of the material dating from 1860-1873 and from 1880 through the 1920s and illuminates the evolution of mechanized agriculture and refrigeration technology from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.
The largest portion of the collection contains photographs of Frick engines and refrigeration machinery, taken both in the foundry and in various installations worldwide, as well as original drawings of Frick machines, parts, and components used to illustrate catalogs and trade publications. Another large portion of the collection is correspondence, containing communication from clients ordering Frick products for their farms or businesses, as well as receipts and correspondence from local and regional suppliers of raw materials and components for the construction of Frick products.
The collection also contains numerous examples of operational paperwork from the 1880s-1890s, such as letterheads, order forms, contracts, test logs, and timesheets, as well as a significant amount of trade literature largely from 1880-1920, such as price lists, catalogs, product pamphlets, and advertising material.
There are several published company histories, technical drawings/blueprints of Frick products, diplomas awarded to Frick machinery presented at expositions and fairs (including the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893), full-color posters advertising Frick & Co., agent supplies (including telegraph cipher code books), accounting paperwork, payroll records, communications with shareholders, and significant documentation of the highly publicized labor dispute/strike at Frick in 1946.
This collection would be of interest to researchers in the areas of: agricultural machination and invention in the nineteeth century, steam and horse-powered engines, the development of refrigerating and ice making equipment in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, business operations and financial transactions in the nineteenth century, Pennsylvania history and companies, industrial photography, and nineteenth and twentieth centuries industrial trade literature.
*The name of the company was modified several times over the history of its operation, variations including George Frick, Frick & Bowman, Frick & Co., and Frick Company, depending on the time period in question. Efforts have been made to align the description of the materials throughout the collection with the correct company name at the time of their creation.


This collection is divided into six series:
Series 1: Publications, 1852, 1874-1875; 1880-1932; 1942-1943; 1953; 1961
Subseries 1.1 Company History, 1928; 1953
Suseries 1.2 Trade Literature, 1874-1875; 1880-1926; 1930; 1932; 1943; 1952-1953; 1960-1961
Subseries 1.3 Advertising Material, 1852; 1880-1899; 1905; 1909-1929; 1942
Series 2: Correspondence, Receipts, and Ledger Books, 1852-1873; 1890-1902; 1914; 1924-1925
Subseries 2.1 Receipts and Business Correspondence: by company, 1855-1873
Subseries 2.2 Receipts and Business Correspondence: miscellaneous, 1852-1873; 1890; 1895
Subseries 2.3 Ledger Books, 1872; 1896-1898; 1892-1894; 1900-1902
Subseries 2.4 Other Correspondence, 1861-1873; 1898-1901; 1914; 1917; 1924-1925
Series 3: Company Management, 1856-1873; circa 1880s-1890s; 1917; 1927-1929; 1945-1946
Subseries 3.1 Accounting, 1856-1897
Subseries 3.2 Sales, circa 1880s; 1917; 1927
Subseries 3.3 Communications, 1860-1917
Subseries 3.4 Public Relations, 1928-1929; 1945-1946
Series 4: Foundry Operations, 1859-1872; 1877-1879; circa 1880s-1890s; 1900-1903; 1911; 1921; 1929
Subseries 4.1 Orders, 1859-1872; circa 1880s-1890s;1900-1902
Subseries 4.2 Drawings/Blueprints, 1871-1911; 1921; 1929
Subseries 4.3 Shipping and Receiving, 1860-1873; circa 1880s-1890s
Subseries 4.4 Timesheets and Testing, 1860; 1868; 1877-1879; circa 1880s-1890s; 1903
Series 5: Photographs and Artistic Renderings, circa 1880-1950
Subseries 5.1 Frick Buildings, Offices, and Operations, circa 1880-1910
Subseries 5.2 Portable, Stationary, and Traction Engines, 1889; 1893-1896; 1906-1908; 1912-1915; 1925
Subseries 5.3 Other Machinery, circa 1890s
Subseries 5.4 Ice Making and Refrigeration Machinery: Vertical Compressors, 1883-1906; circa 1920s
Subseries 5.5 Ice Making and Refrigeration Machinery: Horizontal Compressors, circa 1910-1920
Subseries 5.6 Ice Making and Refrigeration Machinery: CO2 Compressors and Later Models, circa 1920-1950; 1940-1941
Subseries 5.7 Ice Making and Refrigeration Machinery: Ice Plants, 1889; 1904; 1920-1927
Subseries 5.8 Ice Making and Refrigeration Machinery: Cold Storage Units, 1889; 1925; 1933; undated
Subseries 5.9 Installations: Ice Plants, 1892-1896; 1900-1933; 1945
Subseries 5.10 Installations: Refrigeration and Cold Storage Units, circa 1890-1905; circa 1915-1920
Series 6: Trade Shows and Exhibitions, 1877-1885; 1893; 1895; 1904; 1926
Subseries 6.1 Awards, Certificates, and Diplomas, 1877-1884; 1893; 1895; 1904
Subseries 6.2 Promotional Material, 1884-1885; 1926

Biographical / Historical

Biographical / Historical
Founded in 1852 by engineer and inventor George Frick (1826-1892), Frick Company has been an innovative machinery design leader in many areas of the agricultural and refrigeration industries over the last 160 years. Frick began building steam engines and threshing machines in a small shop in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.
Frick quickly gained a reputation for quality in the growing field of mechanized agriculture. His designs for early portable engines--transported and driven by horsepower--soon evolved into self-propelling, steam-powered vehicles that could be driven into the fields and then used to run the grain separating, cleaning and bagging machines that were revolutionizing the farming industry, increasing production at exponential rates.
In addition, Frick's stationary engines were put to use in mills of all kinds (grist, flour, paper, and woolen) to augment or replace their dependence on unreliable natural water power, including sawmills, of which Frick was soon building a line of portable, steam-driven versions. Between the mid-1850s and the early 1870s, the company continued to expand, outgrowing three different shops before building the final location of the works in Waynesboro. George Frick himself was continuously active in the company through the end of the nineteenth century as a mechanical engineer and product designer, as well as a frequent consultant, traveling to confer with clients on specifications for their orders.
Beginning in 1872, George Frick's business and personal life took a downturn with the deaths in quick succession of both his oldest son Frank and his new business partner C.F. Bowman, as a result of a typhoid fever epidemic that swept through the area. Additionally, the financial Panic of 1873 nearly closed Frick's company along with thousands of other American businesses that year, but thirteen local businessmen formed a partnership, putting forth the necessary capital to keep the manufacturing plant afloat. George Frick sold his controlling interest to the partnership, but remained as general manager of the company.
After this brief period of struggle, Frick and Company began again to expand its product line as well as its reputation. The new works in Waynesboro were modern and efficient, enough to warrant a feature article in Scientific American in 1881. The following year, the company built its first refrigeration machine, and a whole new direction of production opened up. Automatic and traction engines were still in demand, being constantly improved and updated, but refrigeration was the new frontier. Frick rose to become one of the leaders in development of high quality, durable, and functional refrigeration machinery. George's son A.O. Frick, now an engineer with the company, partnered with Edgar Penney, another design engineer, to develop the Corliss engine line, which would run the large ammonia compressors, creating what was called a refrigeration machine. They were intially used to power ice plants, which were being built all over the world after the mild winter of 1890 tipped the natural ice industry into decline. They also used cold storage/mechanical cooling units, of which breweries and meat packing plants were the earliest adopters, followed by cold food stores, florist shops, and fur storage, as well as the dairy and shipping industries. The Armour Packing Plant in Kansas City, Missouri was the proud owner of "The Largest Ice Machine in the World," built by Frick and shipped by train via specially-reinforced rails in 1896. At the turn of the twentieth century, hotels, restaurants, hospitals and industrial plants soon began to rely on refrigeration units for daily operations, and Frick's business was booming.
As gas-powered engine technology began taking over in the first decades of the twentieth century, Frick moved away from steam engines and focused on more specialized farm equipment such as dehydrators, peanut pickers, combines, balers and silo fillers. Their line of sawmills was also still in high demand. But increasingly, Frick was focused on steadily refining and improving its refrigeration equipment. Ammonia, while highly efficient as a coolant, had its dangerous downsides: it could be fatal if leaked, and could contaminate plant ice easily. Although many of Frick's ammonia compression refrigeration machines were still in use forty or more years after installation and were still preferred for industrial use, the technology needed to improve in order to be viable for the general public. Several publicized accidents led eventually to the preferred use of chloroflorocarbons as a coolant, and Frick developed enclosed-type CO2 compressors and eventually freon units. Other Frick refrigeration products included machinery for making dry ice, air conditioning units, and temperature controls for test plants, as well as marine refrigeration (developed during the First World War) for shipping food between continents. Frick did contract work for the US military during and following World War II, and was a major company involved in the development of quick-freezing systems to support the growing frozen food industry starting in the late 1940s.
Frick Company positioned itself as a permanent leader in the food production and distribution industry by the 1950s. The company is still in operation today, though it has been purchased several times, most recently by Johnson Controls, which maintains a product line bearing the name Frick.


Craig Orr and Sarah Hedlund
Custodial History
An addenda of 6.6 cubic feet of material was transferred to the Archives Center from the Division of Work and Industry in 2007 and was incorporated into the original transfer of 1988.
Custodial History
Collection transferred from the Division of Engineering and Industry (now Division of Work and Industry) on February 11, 1988.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Collection donated by the Frick Company, through Terry Mitchell in 1961.
Separated Materials
The Division of Work and Industry holds artifacts related to this collection. See acquisition numbers AG79A09.1, MC 319243.12 and .13, and 58A9.
Processing Information
This collection was minimally processed by Craig Orr, archivist, and volunteer Don Darroch, upon transfer to the Archives Center in 1988.
Collection was fully processed in July and August of 2016 by intern Sarah Hedlund, supervised by Alison Oswald, archivist.
A large portion of the material in Series 2 was unfolded from stacked bundles and reordered by company name and/or date. Two scrapbooks of newspaper clippings in Subseries 3.4 were photocopied and the originals were discarded. Photographs in Series 5 were removed from wax paper sleeves.
Boxes 34 and 35 exclusively contain material that was removed, for preservation purposes, from the bound volume Samples of Printed and Advertising Forms, which is housed in box 49. Some material remains in the book as it was not able to be removed without damage to the material.

Using the Collection

Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research but is stored off-site and special arrangements must be made to work with it. Contact the Archives Center for information at or 202-633-3270.
Preferred Citation
Frick Company Collection, 1852-1961, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Related Materials
The Archives Center holds several collections that may be of interest to researchers in relation to the Frick Company Collection.
For related material on Corliss engines, see the following collections:
Chuse Engine and Manufacturing Company Records (AC 1088)
Corliss Steam Engine Album (AC 1016)
Corliss Steam Engine Reference Collection (AC 1329)
Nagle Engine and Boiler Works Records (AC 1083)
Providence Engineering Works Records (AC 1076)
Skinner Engine Company Records (AC 1087)
Robert Weatherill Company Records (AC 0992)
For related material on threshing machines and agricultural machinery, see the following collections:
John K. Parlett Collection (AC 3066)
Warshaw Collection of Business Americana (AC 0060)
For related material on refrigeration machinery, see the following collections:
Madison Cooper Papers (AC 1105)
Nickerson and Collins Photography (AC 1044)
Southwork Foundry and Machine Company Records (AC 1107)


Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Harvesting machinery Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Payrolls Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Purchasing records Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Refrigeration and refrigerating machinery -- 1860-1960 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Scrapbooks -- 1840-1990 Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Steam-engines Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Engineers Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Commercial correspondence Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Clippings Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Account books Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Frick, George, 1826-1892 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
National Museum of American History (U.S.). Division of Engineering and Industry Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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