A MAN who has reflected great honor upon American institutions, is the Hon. Frederick Cook, ex-secretary of state of New York. He is a striking representative of the best type of a German citizen whose leading traits of character have been fully developed upon American soil. He was born on the 2nd of December, 1833, at Wildbad, Germany, a noted watering place in the famous Black Forest district. His father was a contractor, a man who intended to have given his son Frederick the advantages of a thorough collegiate course. The boy was placed at the best school in the neighborhood, and his youthful years were earnestly devoted to the elementary branches of learning. The industrious young student was increasing rapidly in knowledge from year to year, with the brightest prospects before him, when suddenly a dark cloud overshadowed his opening literary career and dashed to the ground his hopes of obtaining a complete collegiate education. When he had reached his twelfth year, his excellent father, who had taken so deep an interest in the instruction of his promising son, died, leaving a family of eight children. By this irreparable loss the happy home was broken up and the children scattered abroad. Without a father’s watchful care, Frederick was left at this tender age almost entirely to his own resources. But with a brave heart and an indomitable will, he faced the storm of life until the sunshine of success and prosperity came to gladden his pathway. He turned his eyes towards America, as the chosen field for his future activity and work, and so, bidding adieu to the dear old “fatherland” in the year 1848, at the age of fifteen, he sailed for the United States. Here he made his home for a short time with a married sister in Buffalo. He was not long idle. Inheriting the industrious qualities of the German people he was fully determined to learn some trade or engage in some useful occupation. He first tried the shoe-making trade, but this not suiting his tastes, he next entered the service of a butcher at the village of Batavia, N. Y. Young Cook was a boy who always performed with faithfulness and to the best of his ability, every duty assigned to him; and this is the great secret of his success in life. His traits of character were at this period carefully noticed by D. W. Tomlinson, president of the Batavia bank, and also largely interested in railroads. He at once obtained for him, because of his knowledge of the German language, a place in the employment of the Buffalo and Rochester railroad. From this stepping-stone, the young man of eighteen was soon to rise higher. The same energy and vigilance, for which he was ever noted, were fully manifested by him in this humble employment. He was soon promoted to the position of a conductor of an emigrant train on the Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls division of the New York Central railroad. While acting in this capacity, his knowledge of the German language was of great advantage to him in conversing with the emigrants from his own native land, who were traveling westward to find new homes in this free country. He gave the strangers much valuable information and many useful directions. The railroad company also greatly appreciated his services in this respect, and a further promotion was ready for him. He was made a passenger conductor. His railroad career covered a period of nearly twenty years, during all of which time he made many friends among the traveling public by his courteous manners and his faithful performance of duty. Gaining a thorough practical knowledge of human nature, he possessed the tact and ability to overcome all obstacles, and to advance the best interests of the railroad system; and when he retired from the service as a railroad man, he received the warmest thanks of his employers and experienced the consciousness of having done his duty well.
When tendering his resignation on December 15, 1871, to take effect January 1, 1872, he was presented by his fellow employees and patrons of the road with an elaborate set of solid silver plate, thus testifying to the high esteem in which he was held by those with whom he had come in contact.
Mr. George M. Pullman is one of Mr. Cook’s most intimate personal friends. On the organization of the “Pullman Car Company,” Mr. Cook thought so favorably of the enterprise that he invested the most of his accumulated savings in the concern. By his careful study of the railroad system and his far-sightedness and sound judgment, he saw the ultimate success of this new enterprise, which was destined to add so much to the comfort of the traveling public. It was a most fortunate investment for Mr. Cook and added much to his financial prosperity. The struggles of the young, , industrious and enterprising lad, so early deprived of his father’s care and love, were signally crowned with success in the land of his adoption, in whose political interests he was also shortly to be called to take a prominent part.
In 1870 he was appointed excise commissioner of Rochester, by Hon. John Lutes, mayor. But long and arduous labors had made serious inroads upon his naturally robust constitution, and in order to recuperate his failing strength, he was obliged to resign this office and sailed for Europe with his family in 1872. He visited many places of interest in the old world, but none were so dear to him as the sight of the old homestead and the spot where reposes the dust of his beloved parents. Returning to the United States in the autumn of 1873, with his health re-established, he was now to enter upon a public career. His politics were thoroughly democratic, of the Jeffersonian school; and being nominated by his party as mayor of Rochester, in a strong-hold of republicanism he came within a few hundred votes of being elected, so great was his personal popularity. He interested himself deeply in the various manufacturing interests of the young and growing city of his adoption, among which was the Bartholomay Brewing Company. This company was organized in 1874 with a capital of $250,000, and Mr. Cook was chosen its vice-president, a position which he still holds. In 1876 he was elected president of the Rochester German Insurance Company, managing with rare executive and financial ability its affairs to the present time. During the same year he was chosen president of the Rochester Driving Park Association, whose financial interests he has advanced from the lowest to the highest degree. In 1882 he was elected to the presidency of the Bank of Rochester, which has since been re-organized as the German-American bank, he remaining at the head. From this time many political honors were conferred upon him. He was looked upon by his party as one of its best and strongest representatives, and called from the walks of a private life to take a leading part in directing public affairs. And no man was more worthy of the confidence of his party or his fellow-citizens, regardless of party, than Frederick Cook, for all his public and private acts were conducted on the broad principles of justice and integrity. The various offices sought him, not he the offices, and the responsibilities he has shared in public life have already been various and arduous, as they have been important and honorable.
In 1872 Governor Hoffman appointed Mr. Cook judge-advocate, with rank of colonel, of the Seventh division of the National Guard, State of New York; and three years later Governor Tilden conferred a similar honor upon him, that of assistant adjutant-general and chief of staff, of the same division.
In 1876 Mr. Cook was a delegate to the national convention which met at St. Louis and nominated Samuel J. Tilden for the presidency. Four years later he was a delegate to the Cincinnati convention which placed General Hancock at the head of the national ticket. Mr. Cook took an active part in the proceedings of this gathering and was the vice-president of the convention, representing the state of New York.
In 1880 Governor Cornell appointed him a manager of the Western House of Refuge, and Governor Cleveland re-appointed him to the same position in 1883. At the same time he was chosen a trustee of the Rochester Savings bank.
In 1885 Mr. Cook was nominated by the Democratic Party for secretary of state, and after a stirring canvass was triumphantly elected by a majority of 14,608, over Colonel Anson S. Wood. His services during his first term of office were so acceptable to his party and the people generally that the democratic convention at Saratoga in the fall of 1887 re-nominated him, against his own wishes, and he was elected over Colonel Frederick Grant, receiving the highest plurality of any candidate on the democratic ticket, a striking evidence of his great popularity throughout the state.
In the spring of 1889 Secretary Cook was brought “nigh unto death,” by an attack of pneumonia contracted while attending the centennial celebration of the first president of the United States in New York city. For several weeks his life was despaired of, but his vigorous constitution prevailed and he slowly recovered. When he had gained sufficient strength, he once more visited his old home, Wildbad, and also Marienbad. There he spent the summer pleasantly, and returned to America in September, with health greatly recruited. He declined a re-nomination in the fall of 1889, for secretary of state, and on the 1st of January, 1890, retired from public life to enjoy a much needed repose in his home at Rochester, with the best wishes of the people of the state, whose interests he had so faithfully served.
In taking formal leave of his associate state officers in the executive chamber on the 31st of December, 1889, Mr. Cook was presented by Governor Hill, in a graceful speech, with an elegant, costly gold watch with chime attachments on behalf of his associates – Comptroller Wemple, retiring Treasurer Fitzgerald, Attorney-General Tabor, Treasurer elect Danforth, State Engineer Bogart, Commissioner Peck, Deputy Secretary of State Willers, etc.
At the close of Mr. Cook’s official term the deputy secretary of state, in behalf of the clerical force of the office, presented to him a group of photographs of the attaches of the secretary’s office who had served with him during his administration, which was enclosed in an elegant frame of antique oak, and is greatly prized by Mr. Cook.
In 1887 the Rochester Title Insurance Company was organized and Mr. Cook was elected to its presidency.
He is a thirty-second degree Free Mason and has held various offices of honor in the order.
Secretary Cook lives in a handsome residence on East Avenue, Rochester, which is presided over by his wife and daughter. He was married in 1853 to Miss Catherine Yaky of Rome, N. Y., who died in 1864. His present wife was Miss Barbara Agne, to whom he was united in marriage in 1865.
His career affords another illustration how, under our form of government, even the humblest citizen may attain the highest positions of honor and trust.