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seated photograph of Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie, c1913.

Andrew Carnegie – Man of Steel

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Many in the library world think of Andrew Carnegie in terms of the many public libraries his fortune built, but otherwise, who was this man?

This is a photograph of the entrance Carnegie library in Atlanta taken from across the street
Carnegie Library of Atlanta. Historic American Buildings Survey.

Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Scotland on November 25, 1825 1835. His family immigrated to the United States when he was a child and eventually they settled in Pennsylvania.  Carnegie worked his way though a series of jobs, including one as a messenger and operator at the Ohio Telegraph Company and as a secretary/telegraph operator at the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.  He eventually worked his way up to superintendent of the Pittsburgh Division of Pennsylvania Railroad and caught the eye of two company executives – Thomas A. Scott and company president J. Edgar Thomson – both of whom would remain influential throughout Carnegie’s life.  Carnegie became quite adept at investing and one of his earliest endeavors was using his connections and skills to merge the T.T. Woodruff & Company (later called Central Transportation Company), a maker of sleeping cars for trains, and the Pullman Palace Car Company.

In 1861 he was appointed Superintendent of the Military Railways and the Union government’s telegraph lines in the East when his mentor Thomas Scott became Assistant Secretary of War.  Because of his position, Carnegie had knowledge of the war machine during the Civil War and saw there was a large need for iron products.  After the war he used this new knowledge to switch his business interests from railroads and telegraphs to the ironworks industry, eventually founding the Keystone Bridge Works.   His contacts in the railroads, which needed lots of steel, came in handy and he was able to use them to increase business.  Carnegie’s business was right in the middle of a rapidly changing America.

Carnegie may have been known as a successful man of business but he was also an innovator.  In a desire to make steel more cheaply and more efficiently, he successfully adopted the Bessemer process at his Homestead Steel Works plant. He also brought in Henry Clay Frick as a partner in 1881, and put him in charge of company operations.  By 1889, steel production in the United States outpaced that of the U.K. – and most of that was under Carnegie’s control. By then, Carnegie was one of the wealthiest men in America.

this is the cover of Harpers Weekly featuring a drawing of a crowd of male strikers
The Homestead Riot. Drawn by W.P. Snyder after a photograph by Dabbs, Pittsburg. Cover Harpers Weekly July 16, 1892.

The company had a challenging year in 1892.  In late June, plant employees – members of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers – went on strike and shut Homestead down.  For about a week there was little activity, but all that changed on July 6, 1892 when Frick brought in the Pinkerton’s to bring the plant back under company control.  After a short battle where a number of people were injured or killed, the state militia was brought in.  The company regained control of the plant, although there was an unsuccessful attempt to kill Frick.  Later that year the strike collapsed. Unfortunately, the events at Homestead stuck to Carnegie, and his reputation suffered for years.

Times were changing and in 1901, Carnegie Steel was merged into J.P. Morgan’s new company – United States Steel Company.  This left time for Carnegie to do other things – such as more writing.  While Carnegie had written one of his most notable articles back in the June 1889 issue of North American Review titled “Wealth,” now he could do more.  In the November 22, 1914 issue of the New York Tribune, he wrote an article titled “Educating for Business Success” and regularly contributed to the journals Nineteenth Century and North American Review.  He even wrote a number of books including Triumphant Democracy, The Gospel of Wealth, and An American Four-in-hand in Britain.  His success influenced a number of people including one gentleman by the name of Napoleon Hill, whom he met in 1908 when Hill wrote a series of articles on successful men.  Hill went on to make a name for himself, writing a number of books in the “personal success” genre including Think and Grow Rich and The Law of Success.

Carnegie is also known in other areas, particularly education. Worldwide, over 2,500 libraries, most of them in the United States, were built and equipped with Carnegie funds. He also donated money to universities and centers of learning including Carnegie Mellon University and its engineering program the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, the Tuskegee Institute, and the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington, D.C. He also used his money to found the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 1910.

This photograph feature men and women attending the anniversary with Andrew Carnegie standing in the bandstand on the right side watching people walk by
Andrew Carnegie at the 25th anniversary of the Tuskegee Institute, April 1906. Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection.

Carnegie died August 11, 1919, but his legacy lived on though the libraries and universities that he gave so generously to establish, as well as the cultural institutions like Carnegie Hall and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh that he built.

Comments (10)

  1. I WAS RAISED in Braddock on 11th street. My father worked at ET and I used,to go to the library as a child. I loved the old building. My father hated Carnegie because he was a union man and did not understand that he was just a tool to produce steel. This started the union movement and the fight for labor rights. This was the reason I became a union representative. Today I’m retired as a federal employee

  2. Hi my name is Peter Brinkos
    I am from Toronto Canada but I am a member of the graduating class of the Phelps School in Malvern Pennsylvania at 583 Sugartown Road zip code 19355
    I graduated from Phelps in 1990
    I don’t want to be rude but you failed to mention that when Andrew Carnegie retired on his 65th birthday he gave the city of Pittsburgh 100 million dollars for to do whatever they needed to do
    I learned this in grade 11
    Timothy Phelps was my teacher and the course was called American cultures 2
    It was a really intense class and very interesting
    I got 78% in the class
    Reading your article made me think of Tim
    The Brinkos family immigrated to Pittsburgh in the late 1920s early 1930s too
    If you’re ever in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania check out Brinkos Meats
    Have a nice day

  3. Andrew Carnegie was born on November 25, 1835 not 1825

  4. Thank you for bringing that to our attention. We did go ahead and make the change.

  5. this really helped my finals thanks.

  6. As a labor historian I am troubled by your characterization of the Homestead strike. Your use of 1892 as “a challenging year” is misleading making it sound as if the company was economically challenged. The company made roughly $4.5 million in profits that year — Carnegie himself was quoted as saying, “Was there ever such a business?” The issue of the strike was not about wages; it was about whether the company would continue to bargain with the union. Despite the year of profits, the company demanded wage cuts even though the workers had taken wage cuts in the preceding agreement. There were never real negotiations as Carnegie Steel simply demanded wage cuts. So they knew exactly what they were doing. Prior to the strike, they built a barbed wire fence around the plant and advertised for strikebreakers. These were clearly provocations. Then he hired a private army of to break the strike. Your characterization of all of this as “after a short battle,” really does not give your readers a true indication of what occurred in one of the bloodiest strike in American history. Surely you are right when you say that Carnegie’s reputation suffered. Even cartoons in the “respectable” newspapers showed him as two headed, with one arm “taking from workers’ wage and the other building libraries. Perhaps the best way to amend this entry is to point readers to the work of the foundation

  7. This really helped me with my biography project and I’m in collage.

  8. This is such a deceptive rendition of what really happened regarding the Steel Mill and it’s workers. Carnegie, like so many others in power, money-wise, was sincerely ONLY worried about his place in society…how much money he had and control. To accomplish this he worked his workers 15/hrs per day in horrible conditions which sometimes led to death because of the caustic fumes, and they only had TWO days off per year. That’s IT! Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. Not Christmas, and NO other days. He was a slave driver as were all the rich and power hungry men. It wasn’t UNTIL the Pinkertons were brought in to create a bloody war with these workers that Carnegie brought himself back from London when the battle happened, and tried to mend his reputation by becoming a “humanitarian.”
    UGH! If you do your research, so many of the “humanitarians” become so to create a facade to hide behind. Carnegie was NOT a good man. If he was, he would have treated the men that made him rich, his workers, with some sort of decency.

    This article is nothing but pure lies and shame on this woman who wrote it.

  9. Andrew Carnegie did not furnish the libraries or provide for their maintenance. He did not provide books—he simply built the library building.

  10. Hi I am John Jack Johnson and I live in Jackson, Mississippi. This website about Andrew Carnegie really helped me with my biology project. Andrew Carnegie really inspired me to join the steel business. However, I lost all my life savings and this really reminds me of how I lost all my money. I remember I was once gambling and got a little too carried away. Thank you for making me live on the streets, this experience really changed my life and made me who I am.

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