Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
A poor immigrant from Scotland, Andrew Carnegie eventually made a great fortune in steel and gave millions to endow libraries and other charities.
Andrew Carnegie was born on November 25, 1835, in Dunfermline, Scotland. Carnegie emigrated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1848. Trading back and forth between odd jobs, Carnegie landed a position within the Pennsylvania Railroad Co. as a personal secretary for then well-noted executive Thomas A. Scott. From this position, Carnegie began his first legacy investing in a multitude of business ventures. Shortly after the Civil War, Carnegie opened an iron plant in Pittsburgh that would later become Carnegie Brothers Steel and eventually, the United States Steel Corporation. During this time Carnegie accumulated a great deal of assets, and he composed his most famous essay, The Gospel of Wealth. In 1901, Carnegie began focusing much of his effort on his second legacy, philanthropy. While Carnegie is best known for his library endowments, he also pursued many political and peace centered ventures. Carnegie died on August 11, 1919.
On November 25, 1835, in a working-class town located in southern Scotland, Dunfermline, Andrew Carneige was born, perhaps the most famous industrialist in American history. Carnegie was born into an upper middle class family in which his father, William, owned and operated a mid-sized handloom weaving shop. Carnegie's mother, Margaret Morrison, was a member of a historical English family that was entrenched in English politics. Mother Margaret's father, Thomas Morrison Sr., was a prominent member of the English Chartist movement that advocated a utopian society instead of the classic English monarchy. William Carnegie was greatly influenced by his wife's family and was an avid supporter of the Chartists. Although William Carnegie did not advocate political activism, his support of the Chartist movement would influence Carnegie's views later in his life. Another of Carnegie's uncles, George Lauder, proved to be a great influence on young Andrew Carnegie by teaching him much about Scotland and educating him in classic Scottish literature.
Carnegie's parents were very comfortable letting him decide when and if he would begin formal education. With the birth of his brother Tom, Carnegie decided to begin formal education in a one-room school in Dunfermline at the age of eight. Carnegie quickly made up for lost time and was regarded as one of the brightest pupils. Little did Carnegie know, but the four years spent in this school would be his last formal education.
As the age of industrialism engulfed Western culture, William Carnegie's loom business was virtually rendered obsolete. To augment the family's income, Margaret Carnegie sold candy and mended shoes until poverty struck the family. During the downfall of William Carnegie's business, Margaret Carnegie pushed for her family to join her two sisters who had emigrated to the U.S.; William Carnegie, however, refused, still dreaming of a Chartist utopian society. Finally, during the brutal winter from 1847 to 1848, William Carnegie gave in and plans were made to make the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to America.
On May 17, 1848, the Carnegie family set sail from Glasgow to the New World, ending their journey in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After a ten-week journey, the family settled in Allegheny County, which is now northern Pittsburgh. The Carnegies moved into a two-bedroom house given to them rent free by Margaret Carnegie's sister Annie. The neighborhood was nearly a slum and was entirely different from what Andrew Carnegie had imagined. To earn an income, William Carnegie took a job at a local cotton textile factory, with Andrew Carnegie right by his side earning $1.20 a week as a bobbin-boy. Although this was meager beginnings, Andrew Carnegie was never discouraged. During this time, he found great pleasure in what would become one of his greatest legacies. Colonel James Anderson had opened his personal library to any working boys, free of charge, and Andrew Carnegie immediately became one of his most frequent visitors. It was here that he learned much about the history of his new country and reveled in the democracy that was the United States government. There is no evidence of Carnegie ever becoming naturalized as a U.S. citizen, but he became very Americanized, earning the moniker "the Star-Spangled Scotsman."
As William Carnegie grew hateful toward his new job, he quickly returned to the handloom as his primary occupation, upon which time Andrew Carnegie also left the factory. Andrew Carnegie began working at a local telegraph company as a delivery boy and earned the reputation of being the fastest delivery boy in the city. He was promoted to telegraph operator and quickly learned to read code by ear without transcription. This remarkable talent caught the eye of notable executive Thomas A. Scott of the Western Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Scott quickly hired Carnegie as his private secretary at $35 a month and would teach Carnegie much about the business world in America. Carnegie learned quickly from Scott about the railroads. When Scott went to Philadelphia in 1859 to become general superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Carnegie was appointed to Scott's former position as superintendent of the Western Division. At the age of 24, Carnegie was now afforded a salary that would begin his lifelong dominance in industry.
In 1865, Carnegie retired from his position at the Pennsylvania Railroad to pursue his various business ventures. Carnegie bought stock in a small car company and purchased a great amount of the Pacific & Atlantic Telegraph Company that he sold at a great profit to Western Union later. In 1868, Carnegie had built a solid foundation for himself with an approximate worth of $400,000. When William Carnegie died in 1855, Andrew promised his mother that he would take care of her, and he was now able to do so. When Carnegie moved from Pittsburgh to New York in 1867 to take care of his finances, she went along with him. Although Carnegie temporarily left Pittsburgh, his return was imminent.
In 1864, Carnegie returned to Pittsburgh and purchased an iron mill that became the Cyclops Iron Company. Using his profits, Carnegie consolidated this company with other iron mills in the area to create Union Mills. As iron gave way to the invention of mass produced steel, Carnegie was tasked with adapting his business to survive the boom. Using the depression of 1873 as a tool for cheap labor, Carnegie began constructing the largest Bessemer steel plant in the United States. Upon completion, Carnegie began his domination in the steel market for years to come. Continuously using his profits to enhance his company, now the Carnegie Brothers Steel Company, Carnegie acquired many steel plants, thus expanding his empire. In 1881, Carnegie worked with renowned entrepreneur Henry Clay Frick, the Coke King of Pennsylvania. Frick needed Carnegie's assets to pursue his ventures while Carnegie needed Frick's coke—a material necessary for the metal—to run his plants. Frick later became the Chairman of the steel company and made great gains particularly by purchasing large steel plants: Homestead, Hartman Steel, and Duquesne. His bid at the steel industry resulted in an empire of immeasurable wealth.
This empire that had been built from the ground up by a mere immigrant, however, was not quite a success story. Due to an event at the Homestead plant in 1892, Carnegie's image would have a blemish in history. With the growing labor rights movement, many industries became adversely affected by the emergence of unions. Carnegie's steel giant was no exception. At his Homestead plant, the labor union had decided to strike, crippling Carnegie's business. In response to this, Frick ordered a fence built—equipped with deputies guarding the plant at gun point—to keep the striking workers out, rather than entering into a collective bargaining agreement with the workers. Carnegie had given Frick his full approval of these actions, ultimately holding him equally responsible for the actions to come. The workers quickly took control of the plants perimeter, and Frick called the private army of the Pinkerton Detective Agency to subdue the workers. Upon the arrival of the small army of Pinkerton agents, a fierce gun battle broke out, resulting in the death of three detectives and nine workers. The Governor of Pennsylvania then ordered the state militia to silence the workers. With the latest technology and trained soldiers, the militia easily quelled the uprising, and four months later some of the workers returned to work with nothing gained. Many argued that Carnegie and his reputation for democracy and equality were tarnished by this single event, often citing hypocrisy.
Carnegie had stake in a number of other business ventures, including owning 18 English newspapers, various locomotive factories, and other minor operations. Carnegie married Louise Whitfield in 1887 at the age of 55 and fathered his only child, a daughter, at the age of 61. From this point on, Carnegie slowly began withdrawing from the industry and moving into philanthropy.
Carnegie sold the Carnegie Steel Company for $480,000,000 to fellow industrialist J.P. Morgan. The company that formed would be the biggest steel company ever: the United States Steel Corporation. With the sale, Carnegie had brokered the largest industrial merger in American history at the time and created the first billion dollar corporation in U.S. Steel.
Seeing this sale as his last major business venture, Carnegie entered into a form of retirement. Many speculate that while Carnegie called it retirement, he never truly left big business until his death.
Philanthropy was now Carnegie's principal goal. Carnegie's various writings, including The Gospel of Wealth and Triumphant Democracy, signify its importance to him.
The most noted literature produced by Carnegie was The Gospel of Wealth, written in 1889, in which Carnegie advocated that any money beyond that of supporting the family should be put to enriching society. As a social Darwinist, Carnegie did not believe in administering money to the poor, but rather to those Carnegie saw like himself: people with a sense of ambition. Carnegie felt that society only benefited when the philanthropic actions aimed to help the dubbed "swimming tenth" that advanced through an ambitious drive. Many consider this work the science of giving. Carnegie proposed that there is an art to philanthropy and that it is just more than giving away large sums of money. Carnegie considered these practices "the noblest possible use of wealth."Triumphant Democracy was considered by Carnegie to be his magnum opus.
Written in 1886, Triumphant Democracy explored the societal and governmental factors that lead to the growth and sustenance of material wealth. Carnegie posited that the democracy present in the United States facilitated the procurement of wealth better than the outdated political systems present at the time in Europe by citing the economic dominance achieved by the United States. This book would go on to become a best seller in both the U.S. and Britain. Carnegie had several other published works, including an autobiography published posthumously. None would achieve the acclaim that of The Gospel of Wealth and Triumphant Democracy.
Using the principles established in his literature, Carnegie began his philanthropic endeavors with the catalyst he encountered as a young immigrant in Pittsburgh: libraries. When Carnegie began promoting the idea of public libraries in 1881, very few existed in America or throughout the world. Spending over $56 million, Carnegie built 2,509 libraries throughout the English-speaking world. Carnegie's funds provided the buildings for the libraries while each community supplied the books and educational materials. Carnegie's libraries are still in operation today with 56 libraries residing in Pennsylvania. The program was ended in 1917; however, the Carnegie Corporation continued to fortify libraries through giving.
In 1911, Carnegie founded the Carnegie Corporation with an endowment of $125 million, nine tenths of his remaining fortune, which would live up to a line from his writings: "A man who dies thus rich, dies disgraced." Carnegie died in Lenox, Massachusetts on August 11, 1919. Andrew Carnegie is buried in Sleepy Hollow cemetery in Tarrytown, New York.
Triumphant Democracy. New York: Scribner, 1886.
Round the World. New York: Scribner, 1888.
An American Four-in-Hand in Britain.New York: Scribner, 1890.
The Gospel of Wealth. New York: The Century Company, 1900.
The Empire of Business. New York: Doubleday, 1902.
James Watt. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1905.
Problems of Today. London: G Allen & Sons, 1908.
Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1920.