Andrew Carnegie: an American Hero

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Andrew Carnegie, a tycoon of industry and tremendous philanthropist, was born in Dumferline, Scotland in 1835. Carnegies family quickly became impoverished due to increasing industrialization making many jobs obsolete and was forced to immigrate to America in 1848. Carnegie and his family ended up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he was forced out of necessity to take up factory labor as a child to help his family subsist.

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Carnegies work prevented him from receiving a formal education, and instead, books he read in libraries constituted much of his education. Eventually, Carnegie became employed for a telegraph company, and then was able to acquire a position at the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1853. This job allowed Carnegie to gain invaluable experience regarding business tactics, in addition to meeting Thomas A. Scott, Carnegies boss who helped initiate his drive for investing. After this, Carnegie began making investments in many sectors, including in oil and steel, and saw generous returns. In 1865, Carnegie founded the Keystone Bridge Company. Soon after, the civil war began and the demand for iron rose significantly. Carnegie noticed this and entered the steel business with the Carnegie Steel Company. He revolutionized the manufacturing of steel by utilizing the Bessemer process, which created more durable and malleable metal, known as steel. Carnegie employed horizontal integration to build his business into the largest of its kind in the world, helping provide many jobs and stimulating the economy. Carnegie had become astoundingly successful, profiting immensely from his investments, and he eventually sold his share of his company to J.P. Morgan for 480 million dollars in 1901. After this, Carnegie embraced philanthropy, through publishing his article The Gospel of Wealth, which encouraged giving back to society, and devoting the rest of his life and future generations to giving his wealth back to society, ultimately distributing back nearly 90% of his wealth. He did this by funding for almost 2,500 public libraries, establishing colleges such as the Carnegie-Mellon University in 1904, and creating the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which was to be used to endorse education and create peace.

Out of all the multimillionaire, titans of industry to come out of the period of industrialization, Carnegie is often heralded as the most philanthropic and provided for the most beneficial changes to society. Primarily, Carnegie made significant contributions back to society, following the philosophy in his article, The Gospel of Wealth, in which he believed it was the moral obligation of the rich to give back their wealth. Over the course of his life, Carnegie gave away almost 350 million dollars, funding nearly 2,500 public libraries, establishing numerous schools and non-profit organizations, and establishing several endowment funds. To this day, the Carnegie Corporation foundation continues to redistribute his wealth back to society and helps to fund education. His new level of philanthropism helped inspire many robber barons of that era to give back some of their wealth and helped set a precedent for the rich of today, to be charitable and use their wealth to benefit society. Not only did Carnegie give back a vast majority of his wealth that continues to help to improve civilian’s ways of life, but his evolution of the steel industry provided millions of jobs for many jobless citizens and was able to make steel more affordable to the masses. Lastly, Carnegies success in amassing tremendous wealth as a poor immigrant helped to inspire and give hope to many others that they could too achieve the rags to riches American dream. Although Carnegie is often viewed an American hero, he did have flaws as his business practices were harmful to some. His use of many questionable business tactics, and gaining monopolies through vertical and horizontal integration, prevented the development of many other businesses. Carnegie is also often criticized for cutting his workers’ wages and providing terrible working conditions, which can be seen as what led to the Homestead Strike of 1892, in which a protest at Carnegies steel plant against lowered wages resulted in violence and death, with many holding Carnegie accountable for it.

Lastly, I regard Carnegie as an American hero because he greatly increased the resources available to Americans and helped expand knowledge with his nationwide Carnegie libraries. As opposed to selfishly spending or hoarding his money, Carnegie selflessly gave back almost 90% of his wealth to his community. I believe heroes are people who instigate change or help improve the ways of life of people, and Carnegie fits this description due to his philanthropy. He was determined to make the world a better place and his philosophy on wealth helped inspire many of those that came after him to become charitable as well. Although Carnegie may not have treated his workers the best, he is a hero in my eyes as his development of the steel industry in America helped provide many jobs for those in need and his philanthropic contributions have and will continue to benefit Americans everywhere.

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