Andrew Carnegie

March 5, 2008
Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland on November 25, 1835. He was raised in a poor, but educated and politically active family. His father and mother, William and Margaret Carnegie, were determined to raise their two children right. Though they had meager resources, they made the most of what they were given, insisting both of their boys received a well-rounded education. In 1847, William Carnegie, a hand weaver, was left without work when the steam-powered loom was introduced to Scotland. The Carnegies decided to immigrate to America. Young Andrew, thirteen at the time, took several different jobs: a bobbin boy in a textile mill, a factory worker, and a messenger boy. Carnegie’s employers were impressed with his work ethic, and, after rising through the ranks of the Pittsburgh Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, Carnegie was eventually promoted to superintendent.

By 1855 Andrew was the sole supporter of his family. William Carnegie died after many unsuccessful years of trying to sell his products. Guided by Thomas A. Scott, Andrew Carnegie made several wise investments in railroads, sleeping cars, and, eventually, oil. In 1865, Carnegie retired from the railroad business and turned his attention to other ventures. He founded the Keystone Bridge Company, whose goal was to create newer, safer bridges with iron instead of wood. During a visit to England, Carnegie was introduced to the success of steel when he met Henry Bessemer. Carnegie realized the need for steel throughout the world and the business potential that steel held. In the next few years, Carnegie founded several different companies, most of them producing steel. By 1892, all of these businesses had been combined to form the Carnegie Steel Company.

In 1901 Carnegie became tired of big business and began considering retirement. J.P. Morgan, a competitor of Carnegie’s who owned many iron and steel businesses, wished to buy the Carnegie Steel Company, and consolidate the two businesses to create the United States Steel Corporation. The deal cost Morgan $480 million, and made Carnegie one of the world’s richest men. After his retirement, Carnegie became a philanthropist, giving the majority of his fortune away to libraries, music halls, universities, laboratories, and schools. Carnegie believed, “A man who dies rich, dies disgraced.” He died on August 11, 1919. Throughout his life, Carnegie had donated over $350 million dollars, which translates to about $4.3 billion today.

Carnegie stood out in the world of business for his views on worker unions. He believed in the worker’s right to unionize, but did not always back up his beliefs with actions. In 1892, the Homestead Strike occurred in one of Carnegie’s steel mills. An economic depression had lowered the demand for steel, and, in turn, induced the need to lower employees’ wages. Carnegie’s manager, H.C. Frick, was in charge of the Homestead Mill, and was given full authority by Carnegie. A huge strike followed the pay cut and Carnegie, contrary to his professed beliefs, offered the workers no compromise and had them blacklisted. These actions haunted Carnegie and caused him great pain later in life. Many people have harsh views of Carnegie because of this incident, but they do not realize the amount of anguish it caused him. “This is the trial of my life (death's hand excepted). Such a foolish step -- contrary to my ideals, repugnant to every feeling of my nature. Our firm offered all it could offer, even generous terms. Our other men had gratefully accepted them. They went as far as I could have wished, but the false step was made in trying to run the Homestead Works with new men. It is a test to which workingmen should not be subjected. It is expecting too much of poor men to stand by and see their work taken by others. . . The pain I suffer increases daily. The Works are not worth one drop of human blood. I wish they had sunk.”

The term “robber baron” was applied to many wealthy men such as Carnegie. The name was meant to describe someone who achieved a great amount of wealth by using less than honorable means. Occasionally, this name was warranted, but I believe it was passed out much too capriciously. Andrew Carnegie was not a “robber baron,” and it is ridiculous to tag him with a name that is so obviously inapplicable. Carnegie worked his way from the absolute bottom, to the very top, just as every American is capable of doing. How hypocritical it is to call someone like Carnegie a “robber” when he donated massive amounts of his earnings back to the public! Many men have been given the name “robber baron” throughout history, and at times the name was deserved, but Andrew Carnegie most definitely not one of them.

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