William Frank (1819-1891) was born in Bavaria, Germany. As a teenager, he spent two weeks apprenticed to a shoemaker before deciding, “if the farmers want their boots mended, they should do it themselves,” as he wrote in a brief memoir in 1889. He became a journeyman cotton weaver, but after practicing his trade in Germany for several years, “I began to think of journeying to blessed America.” He immigrated in 1840.
Frank joined family members in Philadelphia, where he acquired merchandise and a line of credit and began peddling throughout Lancaster County. He eventually opened a store in eastern Ohio with David Strassburger. After the men parted ways, each moved to Pittsburgh in 1846 to start a his own dry goods store downtown. “When my grandpa pulled out from the store, they divided everything in half,” his granddaughter Bessie Frank Anathan recalled in a National Council of Jewish Women oral history. “They had one yard of calico which they cut in half. Even the sign, ‘Strassburger and Frank,’ was cut in two. Grandpa got the ‘and Frank.’” While many Jews in Pittsburgh stayed in merchandising, Frank and his brother-in-law Ephraim Wormser purchased three acres of Monongahela River waterfront in 1858 and built a glassworks. They shipped products across the country until the factory was destroyed by a fire in 1876. Frank also invested in the nascent oil industry in Western Pennsylvania. He spent the final years of his professional life running a general store, ending his American career where it had begun.
On a sales trip to Philadelphia in 1843, Frank befriended a co-religionist on board the eastbound train and confessed a desire to marry. The man asked if Frank would care to meet his cousin, a recent German immigrant named Pauline Wormser (1815-1910).
William and Pauline Frank were among the first Jews to permanently settle in Pittsburgh and helped create many of the first Jewish institutions in the city. William Frank was a charter member of the Bes Almon Society, which purchased land in Troy Hill for a small Jewish cemetery. Among the first burials at the cemetery was the Franks’ infant son Ephraim. William Frank was also a charter member of Shaare Shamayim, the first synagogue in Pittsburgh. He later joined with a faction of the congregation from southern Germany to found Rodef Shalom Congregation. Along with Rosalia Rauh and other women from the congregation, Pauline Frank wrapped bandages, distributed donations and mended clothing for Union soldiers during the Civil War. After the war, the women formed the Hebrew Ladies Aid Society, the first Jewish women’s charity in Pittsburgh.
William and Pauline Frank had eight children. Himan, Samuel, Julia, Abraham and Isaac lived to adulthood. Ephraim, Martin and a third child died in infancy.
Himan Frank (1845-1890), an inventor and activist, was “wild and visionary in his ideas,” according to a R. G. Dun Company credit report. Samuel Frank (1848-1907) worked for the family glass business before founding the Duquesne Glass Company and later going into the steel business. Julia Frank (1851-1928) married Moses Oppenheimer, a clothing manufacturer and wholesaler. Oppenheimer closed his business in 1924. Julia and Moses Oppenheimer’s sons later founded the Apollo Steel Company.
Abraham Frank (1853-1928) left Pittsburgh for Irwin, Pa. in 1878 to open a dry-goods store in the relatively young borough. He was a director of the First National Bank of Irwin, president of the Equitable Building & Loan Association, secretary of the Capital Fire Company, among other positions. He married Anna Ohlman of Meadville, Pa. in 1884. Abraham and Anna Frank had two children, Herbert and Florence. Herbert I. Frank married Rose Buck.
The youngest child, Isaac Frank (1855-1930), attended local schools and the Western University of Pennsylvania, now the University of Pittsburgh, before earning a degree in civil engineering from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, in 1876.
Frank returned to Pittsburgh as the rapidly expanding iron and steel business increased the demand for trained engineers. He worked for Andrew Carnegie at the Keystone Bridge Company, the J. L. Lewis Company, and the federal government, jobs that took him around the country and gave him an understanding of the American industrial economy. In 1881, he became a partner in the new Lewis Foundry and Machine Company, founded by his old employer J. L. Lewis. In 1892, Frank and several partners organized the Frank-Kneeland Machine Company in Lawrenceville. In 1901, Frank negotiated a merger with three other companies to create the United Engineering and Foundry Company and was its president until 1919. The company was among the leading producers of heavy castings in the country and produced numerous components for the Panama Canal. As World War I began in Europe, Frank refused to accept contracts to produce weapons, telling a reporter from the Pittsburgh Dispatch, “Commerce is no longer exploitation. It is human service and no business concern can hope to succeed which does not meet a human need and add to some degree of human happiness.”
In 1883, Isaac Frank married Tinnie Klee, the daughter of Rodef Shalom founding members Jacob and Lena Klee. Isaac Frank was active in community institutions. He spent 30 years on the board of the Gusky Hebrew Home and Orphanage and 20 years as the vice president of both Montefiore Hospital and the Irene Kaufmann Settlement.
Isaac and Tinnie Frank had three children, Bessie, William and Robert.
Bessie Frank (1885-1976) married Simon Anathan (1879-1959), who founded the Hub Department Store in Steubenville, Ohio. They retired to Pittsburgh in 1947. Bessie Anathan provided funding for the Council Lounge for Older People, a National Council of Jewish Women program on Forbes Avenue, in Squirrel Hill, and one of the first senior centers in the country. She later underwrote the purchase of the Maimonides Institute, on nearby Murray Avenue, as a new site for the Council Lounge. She renamed the building in memory of her husband. Today, the Anathan House is the home of the National Council of Jewish Women, Pittsburgh Section. Bessie and Simon Anathan had two children, Frances and Jane. Jane Anathan married Alan “Bud” Lehman.
Robert Frank (1896-1965) worked for the Copperweld Steel Company. In 1939, he commissioned the architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer to design a house for the family on Woodland Road in Squirrel Hill. The Frank House is the largest residential building by the architect and is now considered to be a masterpiece of Bauhaus design.
William Klee Frank (1890-1964) attended public schools and Shady Side Academy before earning a degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in 1911. He worked for various industrial companies in Pittsburgh, including the Damascus Bronze Company,Copperweld Steel and United Engineering. Among his commercial properties were the Amalgamated Realty Company and two car dealerships. He served the War Production Board in various capacities in World War II.
In 1914, William K. Frank married Florence Kingsbacher (1891-1940). William Frank served on the boards of the Association for the Improvement of the Poor, the Young Men and Women’s Hebrew Association, the Emma Farm Association, the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies and the Community Chest of Allegheny County. Florence Kingsbacher Frank was one of the founders of the Community School, now the Falk School at the University of Pittsburgh.
William and Florence Frank had three children, Thomas, James and Margery.
James Alan Frank (1918-2004) also attended Shady Side Academy and Cornell University before returning to Pittsburgh to work for Copperweld Steel and Amalgamated Realty. He was a major in the Army Air Force during World War II. In the 1950s, Frank started American Air Surveys, which made aerial topographical maps for businesses.
In 1942, James Frank married Ruth Ohringer. Continuing the family tradition for community service, he sat on the board of the Pittsburgh YMCA, Urban League, and United Way. Through his interest in his family history and the early days of the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, Frank was a founder of what is now the Rauh Jewish Archives.