Major Duncan Clinch Phillips (1838-1917)

The following is from the Heinz History Center:

Major Duncan Clinch Phillips was born in 1838 to Mary Mahon Ormsby and Lieutenant Elias Phillips. He attended Brown University and served in the Army during the Civil War from 1862 to 1865 under Colonel S.B.M. Young. He was a successful manufacturer of window glass and retired from the business in 1886. In 1897, his family moved from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. due to his health concerns. He died in 1917. Major Phillips is a descendant of Rev. George Phillips who first came from England with John Winthrop, the governor of the Massachusetts colony.

Eliza Irwin Laughlin (ELP), married Major Duncan Clinch Phillips in 1883. She was the daughter of James H. Laughlin.

The following was submitted by researcher John Leach, to which the Johnstown Flood National Memorial is deeply indebted:

"Duncan Clinch Phillips made a fortune through a window glass company that he founded in Pittsburgh in 1865.

Phillips was born on March 1, 1838, to Elias Phillips and Mary Mahon (Ormsby) Phillips.

Duncan Phillips was educated at St. James College in Maryland and Brown University in Providence, RI. During the Civil War, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry and promoted to major. He left the army in 1865.

Phillips returned to Pittsburgh and launched Phillips & Co., a window glass manufacturer. He worked for the company for 21 years, becoming a millionaire, and retired in 1886.

He married Florence Ebbs in Chester County in 1866, but she died in 1870. He married Elizabeth Irwin Laughlin in 1883, and they had two sons. She was a daughter of James H. Laughlin, co-founder of the Jones and Laughlin Steel Co.

Phillips died in 1917 while living at the Ormsby family's summer home in Ebensburg, PA. His son James Laughlin Phillips died a year later.

Spurred by those deaths, Phillips' other son Duncan Clinch Phillips, Jr., and his widow Elizabeth decided to open the Phillips Memorial Art Gallery in the family's mansion. It was America's first museum dedicated to modern art. In 1921, Duncan Clinch Phillips, Jr., married artist Marjorie Acker and the two worked feverishly to open the museum.

The younger Phillips had fallen in love with Impressionist art while on a trip to France and had been buying major paintings at bargain prices, accumulating 2,500 works of art. His mother added a wing to the house to expand the gallery and moved into another home nearby.

The museum is known today as the Phillips Collection and still occupies the family's Washington mansion. A second wing has been added.

1.) Census Reports from 1850 and 1890.
2.) Passport Applications from 1890 and 1911.
3.) School Catalogs from 1855 and 1859.
4.) City Directories from 1879, 1891, and 1915.
5.) Death Certificate.
6.) "A Short Account of the Family of Ormsby of Pittsburgh," by Oliver Ormsby page 38, 1892.
7.) Biography from the Phillips Family Papers at the Heinz Center.
8.) History of the Phillips Collection.

Last updated: November 16, 2019

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

733 Lake Road
South Fork , PA 15956


814 886-6171

Contact Us

Stay Connected