Henry Morrison Flagler was born on January 2, 1830 in Hopewell, New York. He quit school in the 8th grade and moved to Bellevue, Ohio, where he went to work in the L.G. Harness and Company grain store. His starting salary was $5 a month, but in 5 years , he was a salesman making $400 per month. This was only the beginning for a man of vision and determination.
In 1862, Flagler founded the Flager and York Salt Company, a salt mining business in Saginaw, Michigan. Three years later, with the Civil War ended, his company collapsed and he lost his total investment; so he went back in the grain business. It's here that he met and became friends with John D. Rockefeller, who was a commision agent for another grain company. In 1867, Rockefeller left the grain business to start his own oil refinery. Needing capital, Rockefeller approached Flagler, who obtained $100,000 from a relative on the condition that Flagler be made a partner, and so it was. A Rockefeller, Andrews, Flagler partnership was formed.
On January 10, 1870, their partnership emerged as a joint-stock corporation known as Standard Oil. In 1872 Standard Oil was producing 10,000 barrels a day and leading the oil refining industry. In 1877, they moved their headquarters to New York City and the Flaglers moved to their new home on Fifth Avenue.
And then came Florida...
In 1878, because of Mrs. Flagler's health, the Flaglers decided to visit Jacksonville, Florida for the winter. Her illness grew worse and in 1881, she died. Two years later, Flagler remarried and the couple took a little visit to St. Augustine, Florida. It was then that Flagler envisioned Florida's potential to lure out of state visitors. He gave up his involvement in Standard Oil, and in 1885, returned to St. Augustine and began construction on the 450 room Hotel Ponce de Leon. Deeming the transportation system inadequate, he purchased the Jacksonville, St. Augustine & Halifax Railroad, the first in what would soon become the Florida East Coast Railway.
In 1890, Flagler built a railroad bridge across the St. Johns River in order to access the southern half of the state, and he purchased the Hotel Ormond, just north of Daytona. He then began construction of his own residence in St. Augustine, the Kirkside. By 1894, Flagler had built the largest wooden structure in the world, when he built the 1150-room Royal Poinciana Hotel in Palm Beach. He also extended his railroad to West Palm Beach, intending for it to be the railroad's terminus, but when severe freezes hit the area, he decided once again to build farther south. He went to Biscayne Bay in 1896, dredged a channel, built streets, developed the first water and power systems , and extended his railway there. Local citizens wanted to name the town after him, as Flagler Beach is today, but he instead persuaded them to use an old indian name, Miami.
By 1905, Flagler began plans to extend his railway to Key West, at the time, Florida's most populated city and the government's closest deep water port to the proposed Panama Canal. In 1912, the 128 miles seperating the Florida Peninsula from Key West had been bridged by Flagler's Florida Overseas Railroad. In 1913, Flagler fell down a flight of stairs at his mansion in Palm Beach, and never recovered. He died from his injuries at the age of 84. The mansion in which he fell, Whitehall, is today the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum. Built as a wedding present to his wife, Whitehall was a 60,000 square foot, 55 room winter retreat, which helped establish Palm Beach as a refuge for the wealthy.