Andrew Carnegie was born into a poor working class family living in the town of Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1835. His father operated a small hand looming business located in the family home. The Carnegies was literate, well read, and active in the politics of the day. It was a time of repression of the Scottish worker by the Government, the employers, and the culture. Rebellious in thought as well as actively participating in protests was part of the Carnegie family life style. He was exposed to all of Scotland’s dramatic portrayal of Scottish Heroes. He learned the poetry and songs that were filled with the heroics of the underdog and their fight for equality.
Andrew Carnegie’s mother was the strong parent in the family. She protected her two sons from associating with any corrupting values. Andrew said, "Yes, mother would have taken her two boys, one under each arm, and perished with them then they should mingle with low company in their extreme youth. There was not a prouder family in the land. Anything low, mean, deceitful, shifty, course, underhand, or gossipy was foreign to the heroic soul [mother]". Andrew idealized his mother, his country and its heritage, and the struggle for fair treatment of the worker. The Carnegie family left Scotland when Andrew was 13, and came to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the urging of his two aunts. His mother was the behind the move and she continued to be a motivator, supporter, and controller of Andrew and his personal interests for the rest of her life.
Carnegie arrived in America in 1848, and found the state of official social equality he had been searching for. Although the worker had not gained equality in living and working conditions, at least the laws of this government promoted its attainment. He had been filled with the idealism of a radical reformer in Scotland, but in America he quickly became involved with his own climb to success. His greatest characteristic was his ability to take advantage of any opportunity that was offered to him. His first opportunity to advance was his promotion from a factory bobbin boy to writing entries into his employer’s accounts. At 15, he grabbed at the chance to leave the factory for a job as a telegraph messenger. Andrew made it his concern to learn the name of every business owner in the city. Recognizing these men on the street shortened...
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... . . . the ultimate source of Carnegie’s consuming ambition remains elusive. Ultimately human behavior results from the way in which an individual accommodates himself to the contradictions and ambiguities with in himself and his society.. . . . Andrew Carnegie had a personal set of paradoxes. The best his biographers can do is to designate the pressures and document the response . . . . In himself Carnegie knew kindness and cruelty, vanity and shame, generosity and greed, doubt and confidence (Baker 27).
Carnegie cannot be understood even with reading all of his writings. He came from a very poor childhood, worked in sweat factories, and yet in his later life, these memories were obliterated by his powerful drive for power and wealth.
Swetnam believes that, "Carnegie developed a philosophy of his own. It was made up of his early religious and political training, rugged individualism, desire for mastery and achievement, greed, generosity, and a conviction that the world-and especially those close to him-needed his ideas and guidance. No small element was his struggle of conscience over having indulged in what in 1868 he had alluded to as the ‘worship of the golden calf’" ( 67).
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