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Harry F. Sinclair

Harry Ford Sinclair (July 6, 1876 - November 10, 1956) was an American oil industrialist.

Born in Benwood, West Virginia, now a suburb of the city of Wheeling, Sinclair grew up in Independence, Kansas. The son of a pharmacist, after finishing high school, he entered the pharmacy department of the University of Kansas, at Lawrence. He was working as a pharmacist in 1901 when an opportunity came about in the rapidly expanding oil industry that saw him become a lease broker and acquire an interest in the White Oil Company. In 1904, Sinclair married Elizabeth Farrell of Independence, Kansas.



By 1916, the highly successful Sinclair formed Sinclair Oil from the assets of eleven small petroleum companies. By the end of the 1920s, Sinclair Oil refineries had a production capacity of 80,000 barrels a day and had built almost 900 miles of oil pipelines. Operations were expanded in various areas including a 12,000 acre coal mining property. Harry Sinclair's business acumen made him an important member of the local business community and he helped organize the State Bank of Commerce, which later was acquired by the First National Bank of Independence, of which Sinclair served on the board of directors.

Organized sports

Sinclair was one of the main financers of baseball's Federal League.[1] He was the principal owner of that league's Indianapolis franchise. Following the 1914 season, he purchased the remainder of the team and moved them to Newark, New Jersey, where they became the Newark Pepper.[2] After the season, the Federal League cut a deal with the other two baseball leagues. Sinclair reportedly made $2 million on his investment.[3]

Sinclair invested a substantial amount of money in thoroughbred race horses, acquiring the prestigious Rancocas Stable in Jobstown in southwest New Jersey from the estate of Pierre Lorillard IV. One of the most successful stables in the late 19th century, Sinclair again made it a major force in thoroughbred racing during the 1920s. Under trainer Sam Hildreth, Sinclair's stable won the Kentucky Derby and three Belmont Stakes. Such was the fame of Rancocas Stable that the Pennsylvania Railroad named baggage car #5858 in its honor. Two of the stable's colts, Grey Lag and Zev, are in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.


Harry Sinclair's high-profile image as a reputable American business leader and sportsman came under question in April 1922 when the Wall Street Journal reported that United States Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall had granted an oil lease to Sinclair Oil without competitive bidding. The oil field lease was for government land in Wyoming that had been created as an emergency reserve for the United States Navy. What became known as the Teapot Dome scandal, ultimately led to a United States Senate establishing a Committee on Public Lands and Surveys to conduct hearings into the circumstances surrounding the government oil lease. The result was a finding of fraud and corruption which led to a number of civil lawsuits and criminal charges against Harry Sinclair and others. In 1927 the United States Supreme Court declared the Sinclair oil lease had been corruptly obtained and ordered it canceled.

Two weeks after Harry Sinclair's trial began in October 1927, it abruptly ended when the judge declared a mistrial following evidence presented by the government prosecutors showing that Sinclair had hired a detective agency to shadow each member of the jury. Sinclair was charged with contempt of court, the case eventually winding up before the United States Supreme Court who, on June 3, 1929 [1], upheld Sinclair's conviction. He was fined and sentenced to six months in prison. The 1996 film Killer: A Journal of Murder features a scene of Harry Sinclair in Leavenworth prison when Carl Panzram is sent there.

In 1929, Secretary Albert B. Fall was found guilty of bribery, fined $100,000 and sentenced to one year in prison - making him the first Presidential cabinet member to go to prison for his actions in office.

Later life

File:Harry F Sinclair House 9730.JPG
At one time, Harry F. Sinclair owned this C.P.H. Gilbert designed mansion now known as the Harry F. Sinclair House, in New York City.

After serving his short prison term, Sinclair returned to his successful business. He had owned a luxurious French Renaissance-style château [2] on the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 79th Street in New York City. His reputation destroyed, in 1930 Sinclair sold the property. Located in the same area as several major museums, it was eventually acquired by the Ukrainian Institute of America and is now open to the public.

Harry Ford Sinclair died a wealthy man in Pasadena, California in 1956 and was interred in the Roman Catholic Calvary Cemetery, East Los Angeles.


  1. Suehsdorf, A. D. (1978). The Great American Baseball Scrapbook, p. 54. Random House. ISBN 0-394-50253-1.
  2. Hoosiers article at Everything2
  3. Newark Pepper article at Everything2

External links


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