The Life Of Scottish Businessman Andrew Carnegie

Published on 24 April 2023 at 20:23

Being the Alba International Branch, it stands to reason that our members are mainly Scots who have moved beyond the shores of our beloved Scotland to live in another country. Be that just over the border in England, across the channel in Europe, or further afield to Australia or the USA, we join a long list of Scottish expatriates.


However, we are not the first, with Scots having left to live in other countries for centuries, and many of them making a significant contribution to those countries. That is why we have decided to create a series of articles focusing on those Scots whose impact internationally has been the most noteworthy, and we start with someone who could arguably be described as the richest Scot who has ever lived, Andrew Carnegie.


Andrew Carnegie was an industrialist and philanthropist, from Dunfermline, Scotland, who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the richest men in the world, amassing his fortune through the steel industry in the United States.


Carnegie's life is a classic rags-to-riches story, with his legacy extending far beyond his business achievements. In this article, we will explore the life of Andrew Carnegie, focusing on his early life, business career, philanthropy, and the lasting impact of one of Scotland's most successful international emigrants.


Early Life and Emigration


Andrew Carnegie was born on 25 November 1835 into a poor, working-class family in Dunfermline, Scotland. His father, William Carnegie, was a handloom weaver, while his mother, Margaret Morrison Carnegie, was a seamstress. Due to the rapid industrialization of the textile industry, the family faced financial difficulties, prompting them to emigrate to the United States in 1848.


The Carnegie family settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, where Andrew began working at the age of 13 as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill. Despite working long hours, he managed to attend night school, where he developed a passion for reading and self-improvement. This would later play a significant role in his life as a philanthropist.


Rise In The Business World


In 1850, Carnegie started working as a telegraph messenger for the Ohio Telegraph Company. His hard work and determination caught the attention of Thomas A. Scott, the superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Scott hired Carnegie as his personal secretary and telegrapher, marking the beginning of his business endeavours.


Carnegie's time at the railroad company provided him with invaluable business experience and connections. He began investing in various ventures, including the Woodruff Sleeping Car Company, which developed the first successful sleeping car for rail passengers. Carnegie's investments continued to grow, and by the time he was in his early thirties, he was already a wealthy man.


The American Steel Industry and Carnegie Steel Company


Carnegie's entrance into the steel industry came in 1873 when he founded the J. Edgar Thomson Steel Works. He recognized the potential of steel to replace wood in the construction of bridges, buildings, and other infrastructures. Carnegie's steel mills became a key player in the American steel industry, with his innovative use of technology and management practices allowing him to produce steel more efficiently and at a lower cost than his competitors.


In 1892, Carnegie consolidated his steel interests into the Carnegie Steel Company. The company rapidly expanded and soon dominated the steel industry in the United States. Carnegie's success can be attributed to his relentless pursuit of cost reduction and efficiency, which led to the development of the "Carnegie System" – a set of practices that streamlined production and maximized profits.


Sale of Carnegie Steel and Retirement


In 1901, financier JP Morgan approached Carnegie with an offer to buy Carnegie Steel. Carnegie agreed to sell the company for a staggering $480 million, equivalent to around $14 billion today. The sale created the United States Steel Corporation, which became the world's first billion-dollar corporation.


With the sale of his company, Carnegie retired from the business world at the age of 66. He spent the remainder of his life focusing on philanthropy and promoting world peace.


Philanthropy and the "Gospel of Wealth"


Throughout his life, Carnegie was a firm believer in the concept of the "Gospel of Wealth." He believed that the wealthy had a moral obligation to use their wealth for the betterment of society. Carnegie was one of the most generous philanthropists of his time, giving away approximately $350 million (equivalent to over $10 billion today) to various causes.


Carnegie's philanthropy focused primarily on the areas of education, libraries, arts, and world peace. He founded the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1900, which aimed to provide affordable higher education to students. Carnegie also established the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a grant-making foundation, in 1911.


One of Carnegie's most enduring legacies is his support for the establishment of public libraries. He believed that access to knowledge and education was essential for social mobility and progress. Between 1883 and 1929, Carnegie funded the construction of over 2,500 libraries worldwide, with nearly half of them in the United States. These libraries, referred to as "Carnegie Libraries," became essential resources for communities and contributed to the growth of literacy rates in the early 20th century.


In addition to his support for libraries and education, Carnegie was a prominent supporter of world peace. He established the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 1910, an organization dedicated to promoting global cooperation and conflict resolution.


Personal Life and Death


Carnegie married Louise Whitfield in 1887 when he was 51 years old, and she was 30. They had one daughter, Margaret, who was born in 1897. The family resided in New York City, where Carnegie became an active member of the city's social and cultural life.


Andrew Carnegie passed away on 11 August 1919 at the age of 83 in Lenox, Massachusetts. His death marked the end of an extraordinary life, one that began in poverty and ended as one of the wealthiest and most influential men of his time.


Conclusion and Legacy


The life of Andrew Carnegie is a testament to the power of hard work, determination, and innovation. His success in the steel industry transformed the American economy and solidified the United States' position as a global industrial power. However, it was his unwavering commitment to philanthropy that truly defined his legacy.


Carnegie's philanthropic endeavors continue to impact millions of lives, with his support for education, libraries, and world peace shaping the course of history in the 20th century and beyond. Today, Carnegie's story remains a source of inspiration for budding entrepreneurs and philanthropists alike, serving as a reminder of the potential for greatness that lies within us all.


Andrew Carnegie's life is a perfect example of a rags-to-riches story. His impact on the world of business, philanthropy, and education will be remembered and celebrated for generations to come and marks him as one of Scotland's most iconic expatriates.