Born in Scotland in 1835 to an unemployed weaver, Andrew Carnegie did not have an easy path to success. His family moved to America for new opportunities when he was only twelve years old. Settling in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, the whole family worked to make ends meet, including Andrew. He worked as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill, and later sought employment as a telegraph messenger, where he met many influential businessmen, one of which hired him to work at the Pennsylvania Railroad Company as a telegraph clerk, then as his personal secretary, and at just age 24, superintendent of the western division of the railroad (Sherman). Andrew Carnegie was an influential businessman and philanthropist in the late 19th century and early 20th century due to his success in the railroad and steel business, the obstacles he faced through his upbringing and managing his company, and his philanthropic spirit as a retired man.
Andrew Carnegie began his path to success at an early age. Only in his twenties, a young Carnegie found his success in the railroad industry, and later found phenomenal success in the steel industry. According to Laurel Sherman, “When Carnegie was only 24, [Thomas A.] Scott made him superintendent of the western division of the railroad.” At the age of 30, “Carnegie decided to leave the railroad and move into the manufacture of iron” (Sherman). In 1873, Carnegie opened his first steel plant near Pittsburgh, and almost immediately became the biggest competitor in the steel trade (Sherman). “Carnegie steel was the foundation for America’s railways. It formed the framework of new skyscrapers. It was used in motors and machines. It helped build New York’s Brooklyn Bridge and other bridges,” (Sherman). Carnegie sold his steel corporation to J.P. Morgan at age 65, becoming the richest man in the world. The extent of Carnegie’s success in the railroad and steel business were nearly unparalleled, and his influence on America can still be seen today.
Just like anyone else, Carnegie’s road to success had its fair share of bumps. He was not born into wealth or success, and once he had established his success, he had his struggles in managing his business. According to Laurel Sherman, “His father was one of the many Scottish weavers who had been put out of work by the coming of large automated weaving mills.” After Carnegie had established his wealth, in 1889, Union workers at one of his plants organized a strike and “had won the steelworkers a favorable three-year contract; But by 1892 Andrew Carnegie was determined to break the union.” (Editors). The manager of the plant increased quotas, and when the workers refused the conditions, he locked them out of the plant (Editors). The manager called for 300 Pinkerton Guards, and when the arrived, they were met by 10,000 strikers, many of whom were armed. “After an all-day battle, the Pinkertons surrendered and were forced to run a gauntlet through the crowd. In all, nine strikers and seven Pinkertons were killed; many strikers and most of the remaining Pinkertons were injured, some seriously…Eight thousand militia arrived on July 12. Gradually, under militia protection, strikebreakers got the plant running again.” The Homestead Strike represented “how difficult it was for any union to prevail against the combined power of the corporation and the government,” (Editors). The Homestead Strike was a large bump in the road that was the life of Andrew Carnegie, and is a great example of Carnegie’s struggles in managing his company.
Though Carnegie had his moments to not be proud of, such as the Homestead Strike, in his later life, after retiring, he turned his focus to philanthropy and public service. After Carnegie sold his steel company to J.P. Morgan at age 65 for $480 million, he began making generous donations to various causes. Carnegie claimed that wealthy people had a social responsibility to use their fortunes to help the common good (Bremen). According to Will Bremen, “Andrew Carnegie helped build more than 1,600 public libraries in the United States. He also donated more than 4,100 organs to churches in the United States.” By 1911, Carnegie had distributed more than $150 million. Despite his best efforts, however, he was not giving away his money fast enough. He still controlled more than half of his fortune. So, he set up a foundation to help him give away his fortune. It also would continue the process after his death. With a single initial contribution of $125 million, Carnegie established the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Today, the corporation focuses on four main issues: Education, Democracy, International Peace and Security, and Higher Education and Research in Africa. With an endowment of $3 billion today, the Carnegie Corporation is ranked among the top 10 foundations in the United States (Bremen). The Carnegie Corporation is the best example of Carnegie’s philanthropic spirit in that, even though he could not give away all his money during his lifetime, he went out of his way to establish a foundation to distribute the rest of his money to charitable causes after his death.
The influence of Carnegie can be seen all over American to this day because of his contributions to the steel industry, his struggles with the industrialization of America, and through his generosity in which he expressed through his donations to various buildings and foundations in America. Carnegie’s actions are proof that anyone can succeed, and that the wealthy can be generous and philanthropic. He defied all odds in his path to success in being born to a poor family in Scotland, and his everlasting impact on America continues to persist to this day.
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