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Andrew Carnegie traveled from Scotland to America with his parents when he was thirteen years old. The family moved to Pittsburg in 1848, which Carnegie described at the time as unpleasant to say the least writing, “"The smoke permeated and penetrated everything.... If you washed your face and hands, they were as dirty as ever in an hour. and for a time ... life was more or less miserable."(Richest PBS) Here begins the conflict Carnegie displays throughout his life; while he is disgusted with the effects of industrialized society he also builds an empire from the same means.
Carnegie’s father was able to gain employment for himself and Andrew at a cotton factory, Carnegie’s wage was a meager $1.20 a week at this time.(Andrew Wikipedia) While at the cotton factory Carnegie was able to move into better paying positions although the advancements he earned had drawbacks. In one position he controlled a boiler he was always worried might burst, another oiling spools, which often made him sick and both very trying for him at such a young age. He states in his autobiography, “at this date I was not beyond asking myself what Wallace would have done and what a Scotsman ought to do. Of one thing I was sure, he ought never to give up.” ( Carnegie Auto) His perseverance was one of his positive attributes that helped him succeed. Three years after arriving in America, Carnegie gained employment from the Ohio Telegraph Company with a wage more than double that at the cotton factory. At $2.50 a week Carnegies was raking in the big bucks at his new job and he was excited to learn more about the industry. While employed with the telegraph company Carnegie became one of only a few people in the country who could decipher the message of the telegraph strictly by sound.(Andrew Wikipedia) His capacity to learn quickly and the energy he was willing to put into any job he had defiantly paved the road to his wealth.
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Thomas Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad company took notice of Carnegie’s work ethic and telegraph skill. Scott hired Carnegie on as a personal telegrapher and secretary for $35 dollars a month.(Richest PBS) Later his advancement to superintendent of the Pittsburg division placed him as Scott’s right hand man throughout the Civil War. The Civil War caused a boom in the iron industry at which Carnegie took notice and at the same time, he went to work in Altoona Pennsylvania where the Pennsylvania Railroad company was converting a wooden railroad bridge into stronger iron.(Richest PBS) These two components lead Carnegie to take his first major step as an entrepreneur. Carnegie organized together the designer of the bridge in Altoona as well as two business partners and his good friend Thomas Scott to develop the Keystone Bridge Company, with the intention of replacing wooden bridges in Pennsylvania with stronger and more modern iron. Keystone exceeded those first expectations and the company chartered projects as far as St. Louis. (Carnegie Auto) Keystone Bridges carried an excellent reputation, as Carnegie stated, “even in these days of the fiercest competition, when everything would seem to be a matter of price, there lies still at the root of great business success the much more important factor of quality.” (Carnegie Auto) While writing his autobiography Carnegie noted that not one Keystone bridge had fallen or suffered some other disaster, this dedication to quality work is yet another factor to his success.
The Keystone works was Carnegie’s first investment in iron production. He held a one sixth interest in Keystone for an eight hundred dollar investment.(Richest PBS) He then began investing in other iron works. He soon hit a roadblock in the industry. Carnegie was disturbed by the lack of information gather to calculate loss and waste. He spent several years creating a detailed accounting system for his works that allowed him to see not only what was produced but also measure each individual worker’s performance. (Carnegie Auto)While perfecting the information system of his iron works Carnegie discovered a new process being used by Henry Bessemer, this process of steel refining would convert huge batches of iron into steel. (Richest PBS) Carnegie invested heavily into the new technology with his own money and borrowed large sums to support the new process.
By the late 1880s, Carnegie owned several steel works; he owned more steel and iron production than any other person in the country. All the works were consolidated under Carnegie Steel Company. He attained several existing steel and iron works one in particular would cause him quite a bit of trouble.
The Homestead strike of 1982 was a disaster that tainted the image of Mr. Carnegie. Although the workers in Homestead were handled by Carnegie’s partner Henry Clay Frick, a known anti-unionist, it is documented that Carnegie communicated with Frick throughout the Homestead strike. Union workers refused to resolve the union at Homestead and accept pay cuts. The tension began with Frick’s lockout of union workers to the works on June 30, 1892. ( Homestead) It is obvious that neither Carnegie nor Frick foresaw the power behind the few union workers locked out considering those workers were in the minority at the Homestead mill. However, this oversight lead to one of the most serious labor disputes in American history. Again, with the Homestead strike we see another conflict Carnegie displays; while he spoke of union labor rights he was quick to dissolve unions in his own works as well as cut pay and force long hours on employees. The outcome of the Homestead strike was bloodshed. The strikers were able to stop scabs from entering and maintain control over the town of Homestead for more than a week. Frick resorted to bringing in private security to attempt control over the plant. It is unknown who fired first but ten men died during the shooting.(Homestead ) Carnegie was conveniently out of the country on vacation during the strike although it is known he supported Frick’s decision to lockout the Homestead plant he looked back on the disaster stating he would have handled things differently himself. (Carnegie Auto)
In 1901 Carnegie was 65 years old. He was ready to retire and had been for sometime. When Charles Schwab came to Carnegie with information that John Pierpont Morgan was interesting in purchasing Carnegie Steel the negotiating began. (Carnegie Auto) The final agreement was resolved in late February 1901, the sum, the largest ever personal transaction in history at the time, of 480 million dollars.(Andrew Wikipedia)
As they signed the papers of sale, Carnegie remarked, "Well, Pierpont, I am now handing the burden over to you."(Andrew Wikipedia) Carnegie had promised himself to get out of buisness at 35, somehow thirty years later he managed to finially get himself out of the steel works.
After selling his steel works to JP Morgan Carnegie had a mass fortune at his fingertips. His intent is displayed well in his “Gospel of Wealth” in which he states that wealth of the few who attain it should be redisbursed into society to help those who seek to help themselves. Carnegie donated approximately 350 million dollars to several different facets of societal improvement. He cherished books as a youth and donated millions to build more than 2800 libraries. (Richest PBS) He also donated heavily into the sciences. The Carnegie Institution of Washington proved DNA was the genetic material and developed radar as well as vast other advancement in science. (Richest PBS)The Carnegie museums and science centers in Pittsburg were generous donations given to the city in which he built his wealth. He believed to keep the riches to himself would be wasteful and corrupting. Although Carnegie donated heavily, he was against donation to typical charity and held that the only people worth helping were those who sought to better themselves.
Carnegie enjoyed a successful career and a wealthy retirement. He was able to do what many dream of but few ever achieve. Surprising he could achieve so much without much formal education, although he was an avid reader. His steel legacy was unparallel to any other during the turn of the century he set the standard in the industry. His tactics may not have always been smiled upon even by himself. Carnegie often went against his core values to succeed however, it was his determination and strong work ethic that helped him to the top. His donations to society leave him remembered as a good man. Through his generosity society was left in a better state. Even if he struggled with his own demons he righted his wrongs in the public eye. He will always be remembered not only for his steel works but the libraries, museums, and science organizations created in his honor.
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