Phipps Conservatory

Pittsburgh, Pennslyvania | C.1893

Photo Credit: Moshe Marvit

The legacies of America’s great industrial tycoons—Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt—are monumental in size, scope, and global recognition. In the late 19th century, these trailblazers made their fortunes by getting ahead of the pack in the steel and oil industries, and have since left their mark through architectural, cultural, and philanthropic gifts and endeavors. A lesser known, but profoundly influential industrialist of the era was Henry Phipps Jr., whose legacy endures by way of Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory.

Phipps and his family moved from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh when he was a young boy. He quickly adapted, in part by befriending his neighbors, Andrew and Thomas Carnegie. Years later, Phipps launched his career as an office boy, then as a bookkeeper. By the 1860s, Phipps—having excelled as a businessman in his own right—reconnected with his childhood friend Andrew, and joined him as a partner in Union Iron Mills.

Phipps and Carnegie remained business partners for over three decades, helming Union Iron Mills and later the Carnegie Steel Company. In 1901, the magnates sold the Carnegie Steel Company for the pretty price of $400 million (approximately $13.3 billion today). Each outfitted with heavy pockets, the men turned to their own real estate and philanthropic efforts.

Although Phipps had made his fortune cultivating the raw resource of steel, he chose to leave a legacy that celebrates the softer entities of the natural world. In 1893, seemingly acknowledging that the plant is mightier than the sword, he gifted Pittsburgh with this magnificent Conservatory, with formal gardens and exotic plants within the nine gleaming rooms of its main glasshouse. Today, it is known as one of the “greenest facilities in the world,” boasting the highest level of certification for a building’s sustainability.

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