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10/28/2021 03:43 PM
Pennsylvania State Senate

William Flinn



Session Office Position District Party
1891-1892 44 Republican
1893-1894 44 Republican
1895-1896 44 Republican
1897-1898 44 Republican
1899-1900 44 Republican
1901-1902 44 Republican
 Counties   Allegheny


1851 - 1924

William Flinn was born in Manchester, Lancashire, England on May 26, 1851, the son of John and Mary Hamilton Flinn, his father immigrating to Pittsburgh's Sixth Ward the same year.  He was educated in public schools until he dropped out before age 10, opting to deliver newspapers, shine shoes, and later apprentice in the gas and steam fitting trades.  Flinn became local political activist in the Pittsburgh Republican organization, attaining a position as a ward boss and a member of the Board of Fire Commissioners in 1877.  He developed a political partnership with Chris Magee, the two emerging as a pair of Pennsylvania’s most notable power brokers.  Flinn was appointed chair of the city's Republican executive committee and not surprisingly, slated as the group’s candidate for the state Senate in the fall of 1890, serving three terms through 1902.   He sponsored the Good Roads Act, which became law in 1895 and served from 1884 to 1912 as a delegate to every Republican National Convention.  Flinn a major contractor, for 30 years received a good deal of criticism for corrupting the bidding process and receiving kickbacks for some of the largest improvement jobs  Pittsburgh has ever known.  For example, Flinn’s projects included the Liberty Tunnels, Wabash Tunnel, and Armstrong Tunnels in Pittsburgh, and the Holland Tunnel between New York City and New Jersey.  With others of his organization, Flinn was targeted by muckraker Lincoln Steffens in The Shame of the Cities, the McClure’s Magazine series in which Steffens infamously labeled Pittsburgh as “hell with the lid off.”  Although reform legislation eventually curbed the Magee-Flinn brand of corruption, William nonetheless served as president of the Duquesne Lumber Company and the Pittsburgh Silver Peak Gold Mining Company. He sat on the board of directors of the Arkansas Fuel Oil Company, the Arkansas Natural Gas Company, the Gulf Oil Corporation, and the Pittsburgh Coal Company.  He married Nancy Galbraith in 1874 and the couple had six children.  Flinn retired from politics briefly after the death in 1901 of partner “Chrissy” Magee, and settled at his country estate called Beechwood Farm.  In 1912, Flinn abandoned the GOP and supported Teddy Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party.  He died while wintering in St. Petersburg, Florida, February 19, 1924, age 72; interred at Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh.  At the time of his death, his estate was estimated at $11 million.