Whithorn’s King Midas

Charles Lockhart “amazed the financial community when his estate was estimated at $200,000,000! Consider that Carnegie’s estate was $300 million, John Rockefeller had $250 million Henry Clay Frick was at $70 million, and J. P. Morgan was at $60 million. Lockhart ranks in Pittsburgh’s top five richest capitalists and America’s top ten.”*1

Charles Lockhart was born at the Cairnhead Farm, near Whithorn, on August 2, 1818. His father was John Lockhart, the son of Charles Lockhart of nearby Ersock, a prosperous farmer. His mother, Sarah Walker was the daughter of James Walker, a damask weaver from Sorbie. When Charles was seven he went to live with his uncle John Marshall, a Garlieston shop keeper. He stayed with him, attending school and helping in the shop until he was sixteen.

South Street, Garlieston

Seeking better prospects in the ‘New World’ his parents decided to emigrate in early 1836 and, with their family of seven children, reached New York after a voyage of fifty-six days. The journey would not have been an easy one. As Ralph Waldo Emerson described it from aboard the packet ship New York in 1833, “The road from Liverpool to New York, as they who have travelled it well know, is very long, crooked, rough, and eminently disagreeable.”

The family first settled in Pittsburgh, where there was a large Scots-Irish community, before taking a farm in Ohio. The industrial city could not have been more different to the Machars of Galloway. Many of the first prominent visitors were not impressed with a place alternately known as “Gateway to the West” and the “drinkingest town” in the West. Charles Dickens didn’t like it. Visiting in the spring of 1842, he compared Pittsburgh to the bleakness of Birmingham. “It certainly has a great quantity of smoke hanging over it.” English author Anthony Trollope, in 1862, called it the “blackest place I ever saw.” 

Pittsburgh, 1837

With experience gained from working in his uncle’s shop in Garlieston, Lockhart got a job in Pittsburgh as an errand boy in James McCully’s wholesale grocer’s shop. He gradually worked his way up over nineteen years, becoming a clerk and finally, a partner in the business of James McCully & Co. The other partner was William Frew, who was a nephew of McCully.

Lockhart was aware of the work of the inventor Samuel Martin Kier. He may have been buying salt from Kier’s wells but by the late 1840s these were becoming fouled with oil. Noticing how the waste oil burned, Kier was the first person to refine it in 1851 into what he called illumination or lamp oil. Of Scottish decent, Kier based the refining process on the distilling technology found in traditional Scottish whisky stills and used one of these stills to produce three gallons a day.

Another supplier of salt to McCully & Co was Isaac Huff of Tarentum, about a hundred miles up the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh. In 1852 , not sure what to do with the crude oil that had also been polluting his salt, Huff appeared at McClly’s store with three barrels of it. Lockhart purchased the oil for 31 ¼ cents per gallon which he in turn sold to Kier for refining, at 62 ½ cents per gallon. Smartly, Lockhart contracted with Huff to purchase all the crude that he could produce for five years, at 31 ¼ cents per gallon. This was the first known instance of buying and selling crude oil in advance of production.  

 A year later Lockhart bought Huff’s well and began developing the ‘Oil Creek’ area.  By 1858, the Pittsburgh trade along the lower Allegheny River amounted to 1,200 barrels a year. Joining with other Pittsburgh investors, Lockhart began drilling for oil and in 1860 one of the new wells was producing 3,660 barrels a day.

In May 1860, Lockhart sailed to Liverpool taking with him a gallon can of Pennsylvania crude oil and a gallon can of lamp oil produced as distillate from Kier’s refinery. While there, Lockhart successfully demonstrated lighting a lamp with the distilled oil. This signalled the beginning of international oil trading, now such a major factor in the world’s economy. 

With the regular sailings from Liverpool to Garlieston and the Isle of Whithorn, it is likely that Lockhart journeyed home to meet the relatives the family had left behind. At this time he met Jane Walker who may have been a relative from his mother’s side of the family and on his next trip in 1862 Charles married Jane. The couple returned to Pittsburgh, where Lockhart’s interests focused on the growing oil business. In 1861, Lockhart, Frew and partners built the first commercial scale oil refinery in the United States, the Brilliant Oil Works. This was followed by the building of their Atlantic Refinery in Philadelphia.

John D Rockefeller began expanding his interests into the Pennsylvania oil fields where by 1872 Lockhart had seven refineries with over half of Pittsburgh’s production. With Rockefeller, Lockhart laid the foundation of the Standard Oil Company of Pittsburgh and began to buy or lease all the other refineries. The remaining independent oil producers were outraged with this and in 1879, Lockhart was indicted, along with other Standard Oil officials, for conspiracy to restrain trade. The case was settled out of court in 1880. When the Standard Oil Trust was dissolved, Lockhart became president of Atlantic Refining Company.

Lockhart’s involvement as he diversified his wealth into other buisness activities was extraordinary. He was the founder of American & Red Star Steamship Lines; had investments in gold mining in Colorado and Idaho and owned the Jackson Lumber Company in Alabama where he owned 130,000 acres. He was president of Pittsburgh National Bank of Commerce; the International Navigation Company and of Lockhart Iron and Steel.  He was director of Pittsburgh Locomotive Works; Western Union Telegraph Company and of Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. He owned wheat farms in Red River Valley, Minnesota, Cement works, in Easton, Pennsylvania, Shipyards in Philadelphia and Hubbard, Bakewell & Company, axe and shovel manufacturers.

Beginning to distribute some of his new found wealth to the community, Lockhart built Liberty Hall in Pittsburgh. It was used for city gatherings, entertainment, theatricals, and bazaars and was also the home of the East Liberty YMCA for several years beginning in 1889 which he provided use of the building free of charge.

Lockhart was a strict Presbyterian throughout his life and was the major benefactor of Second United Presbyterian Church (now Eastminster) in Pittsburgh. In addition he quietly supported hospitals, the Society for the Improvement of the Poor, and the School for Deaf Children.

Lockharts built a palatial mansion in Pittsburgh for his family in which he amassed a great art collection. A top-lit gallery was build to display some of it.

Society painter Theobald Chartrans  was commissioned in the 1880s for a fine double portrait of Jane and Charles Lockhart.

The Lockhart art collection predated those of some more famous Pittsburgh millionaires, such as Mellon, Frick and Carnegie, by at least a decade and can be said to have helped set the standard at the time. The Lockharts’ “collecting patterns suggest they were well informed about art and were prepared to take risks that set them apart from their contemporaries.” (*2) In 1886, Lockhart’s influence can even be seen in his recommendations of architects for Carnegie’s first libraries in America. Art collecting for the Nouveau Riche gave them social status placing them on a par with the nobility and gentry of ‘Old’ Europe.

Charles Lockhart did not forget about his roots in Galloway. He was appealed to help pay for the library in Whithorn and was approached for funds for the new building for the United Presbyterian Church in the town. Ironically, a church part paid for from oil wealth is now a petrol station and garage.

In the late 19th century Lockhart began to send £50 each winter to pay for coal for the poorer families in Garlieston and the Isle of Whithorn. After his death, this donation was continued by his son who, during the First World War, increased the annual payment to £100.

He also oversaw the building of a new house for surviving relatives in Whithorn. It is the only house that is set back from the building line on George Street.

As if to repeat the irony, for many years the house next door to it was also an Esso petrol station.

While Carnagie made a public show of his paternalistic philanthropy, Lockhart was reticent about his endowments and gifts to charities. In 1900, Jane Walker Lockhart died and Charles Lockhart retired. He died five years later. They had five children: three daughters and two sons.

According to John D. Rockefeller, Lockhart was “one of the most experienced, selfcontained, and self-controlled men in business.” John McLaurin wrote that “time has dealt gently with Mr. Lockhart, who is young in heart with sympathy and goodfellowship. His compliments have the juiciness of the peach, his pleasant jokes are spiced with originality, his years sit on him lightly and his old friends are not forgotten. He is happy in his social and business relations, in recalling the past and awaiting the future, in wealth gained worthily and enjoyed wisely and in a life crowded with usefulness and blessing.” (*2)

There is only a small plaque attached to railings in Whithorn to commemorate this King Midas. Where Carnegie’s birthplace in Dumfermline became a museum, Lockhart’s first home at Cairnhead is an unremarkable small farm near Whithorn.

*1.The World’s Richest Neighborhood: How Pittsburgh’s East Enders Forged American Industry, Jr Quentin, 2010.

*2. Sketches in Crude-Oil, John J. McLaurin, 1896.

*3. Collecting in the Gilded Age, Gabriel P. Weisberg, DeCourcy E. McIntosh, and Alison McQueen, 1997.

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