Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), American industrialist and philanthropist, a founder of the iron and steel industry in the United States, who is noted for his many charitable gifts, especially those founding public libraries. At the age of 33, when he had an annual income of $50,000, Carnegie wrote himself a note, “Beyond this never earn, make no effort to increase fortune, but spend the surplus each year for benevolent purposes.” He did not keep this resolution, but as his fortune grew so did his concern for using his fortune to provide greater opportunity for all.
Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, on November 25, 1835. His father, William Carnegie, was a weaver who grew relatively prosperous, with four looms and a number of apprentices. The family of Andrew’s mother were outspoken opponents of privilege in all forms, and both of his parents were active supporters of Chartism, a movement to gain political reform for the benefit of the working classes. Andrew Carnegie’s political and social ideals were formed in this unorthodox political environment.
With the rapid industrialization of the textile industry in Britain, handloom weavers like William Carnegie suffered greatly. In 1848 the family sold the last of their looms, borrowed 20 pounds from a neighbor, and sailed for the United States. They settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, and at the age of 13 Andrew went to work as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill, earning $1.20 per week.
Although William Carnegie failed to make a successful adjustment to the new environment, his son experienced no such difficulties. He was soon writing enthusiastic letters to friends in Dunfermline that in America he had found the practical realization of all the Scottish Chartist’s dreams. He was convinced that the United States had developed a perfect solution to Europe’s long-standing political grievances, a conviction that never deserted Carnegie.
|III||DEVELOPMENT OF AN INDUSTRIALIST|
A year after obtaining his first job, Carnegie was able to move out of the cotton factory, which he disliked intensely, to become a messenger in a Pittsburgh telegraph office. Here he could meet important people and take advantage of any business opportunity that might present itself. From this moment on, his rise in the business life of Pittsburgh was meteoric. He quickly taught himself telegraphy. He was then hired by the Pennsylvania Railroad as private secretary and telegrapher for railroad official Thomas Alexander Scott. His salary was $35 a month, and Carnegie regarded his fortune as already made. Carnegie advanced by successive promotions until he took over Scott’s job as superintendent of the Pittsburgh division of the railroad, when Scott became general superintendent of the line.
In 1861, at the beginning of the American Civil War, Carnegie served in the War Department under Scott, who was in charge of military transportation and government telegraph service. Carnegie remained with the Pennsylvania Railroad for 12 years, from 1853 to 1865, but long before he left, his interests had expanded far beyond the railway office from which he drew his modest salary. Despite his small income he took out a loan to buy into a sleeping car company, which soon brought him a greater annual income than his railroad salary. He also invested a small amount in an oil company in western Pennsylvania. The handsome dividends he received from his oil investments enabled him to go into the iron and steel business. In 1865 he helped form a company to replace wooden railway bridges with iron bridges. At the same time he became a partner in a small iron-forging company in Pittsburgh.
In 1873, on one of his frequent trips to Great Britain, Carnegie met Henry Bessemer, inventor of the Bessemer process of making steel, and he became convinced that the future of industry lay in steel. He built a steel mill near Pittsburgh, and from this time on the Carnegie empire was one of constant expansion. By 1899, when he consolidated his interests in the Carnegie Steel Company, he controlled about 25 percent of American iron and steel production. In 1901 Carnegie sold his company for $250 million to a syndicate formed by financier J. P. Morgan to organize the United States Steel Corporation (see USX Corporation: History of U.S. Steel). Carnegie then retired from business.
Carnegie always maintained that the secret of his business success lay not in his own genius as a maker of steel, but in his ability to select the proper person for the job to be done. He was one of the first industrialists to hire scientists for research, and he suggested for his own epitaph, “Here lies a man who was able to surround himself with men far cleverer than himself.” But such a statement underestimates Carnegie’s own genius in organization and the shrewdness of his business judgment. His faith in the United States as a land of business opportunity never wavered, and much of his financial success was due to his policy of expanding in periods of depression. Carnegie also prided himself on his enlightened labor policy, although his reputation for benevolence was publicly damaged by the violent Homestead Strike of 1892.
|IV||CARNEGIE THE PHILANTHROPIST|
Carnegie remained committed to many of the Chartist ideals of his boyhood. In “The Gospel of Wealth,” first published in the North American Review in 1899, Carnegie stated his doctrine concerning the responsibility of the wealthy individual to society. Wealthy people, he believed, should use the fortune they have earned to provide greater opportunity for all and to increase knowledge of humankind and of the universe.
Carnegie began to practice his own doctrine in the 1880s with the building of libraries, the particular philanthropy with which Carnegie’s name is especially associated. Beginning with the gift of his first library to his hometown of Dunfermline in 1882, Carnegie provided funds for more than 2,500 libraries in Britain and Ireland, the United States, and Canada. The arrangement for all these gifts was the same: Carnegie provided the funds for the building only after the municipal government had provided a site for the building and passed an ordinance for the purchase of books and future maintenance of the library.
During his lifetime Carnegie gave more than $350 million to various educational, cultural, and peace institutions, many of which bear his name. The philanthropic foundations he established include the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust, the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, the Carnegie Hero Fund Trust, Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the largest of all, the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Carnegie was honored throughout the world during his lifetime.
In 1886 Carnegie married Louise Whitfield of New York. Thereafter, Carnegie and his wife spent at least six months of each year in Scotland. Soon after the birth of their only child, Margaret, the Carnegies purchased a vast estate in northern Scotland and built the castle of Skibo. Here each summer, Carnegie entertained the people who interested him most, particularly those in the world of literature, science, and education.
In his last years Carnegie became convinced that war was humanity’s greatest evil, and he devoted much of his time and fortune toward the securing of international peace. He built the Pan-American Union building in Washington, D.C., to promote peace in the Western Hemisphere and donated funds for the construction of the Peace Palace (now the International Court of Justice) in The Hague, Netherlands, to support international arbitration. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 came as a tragic conclusion to all of his hopes. He died in Lenox, Massachusetts, on August 11, 1919.