Let's Learn From The Past: Andrew Carnegie

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Known for being one of the wealthiest individuals in American history, industrialist and businessman Andrew Carnegie left a large philanthropic legacy in Pittsburgh and across the world.

Born in 1835 to a working class family, Carnegie grew up in Dunfermline, Scotland. When his father lost his job as a weaver and with the hope of new possibilities in America, the Carnegie family immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1848.

Soon after arriving in Pittsburgh, Carnegie worked as a runner in a textile mill for $1.20 a week. By 1853, the Pennsylvania Railroad Co. hired him as a secretary and telegraph operator. Eventually, the hard-working Carnegie earned a promotion to superintendent for the Pittsburgh Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

From his work experiences at the railroad, Carnegie began to branch out on his own in the business world and invested in the building of railway sleeping cars, oil drilling, steel and iron production. In 1865, he founded his first of many companies, the Keystone Bridge Co.

In 1875, Carnegie opened his first steel plant, the Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock, which made rails for the Pennsylvania Railroad. At the plant, Carnegie implemented a cheaper way to mass produce steel by utilizing the Bessemer process. By 1892, he founded the Carnegie Steel Co. and controlled the largest iron and steel operation in the nation. Henry Clay Frick, a coke baron from West Overton, Pa., met Carnegie while on his honeymoon in New York and later became the chairman of the company.

As Carnegie and Frick’s steel empire grew, workers began to rebel for higher wages and better work conditions. The 1892 strike between the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers and the Carnegie Steel Co. became one of the most infamous labor struggles in U.S. history. Carnegie ordered Frick to quell the union strike, but Frick’s strategy of hiring the Pinkertons, an independent detective agency, to protect the plant and patrol the strike resulted with at least 10 people dead and several injured. Following the strike, Carnegie tried to distance himself from the bloody battle cutting all ties with Frick.

Nine years later in 1901, Carnegie became the richest man in the world when he sold Carnegie Steel to J.P. Morgan for $480 million, the equivalent of $13 billion today, forming the United States Steel Corp.

Influenced by his impoverished childhood, Carnegie was famously quoted as saying, “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.” After setting aside a small trust of money to his wife and daughter, Carnegie dedicated the remainder of his life to giving his wealth away. He donated significant sums of money to dozens of charitable organizations focused on education, peace and research.

He helped to finance and build the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and more than 3,000 Carnegie libraries across the world. Carnegie’s name and legacy is still found throughout Western Pennsylvania, including the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Visitors to the Heinz History Center can learn more about Andrew Carnegie and see a lifelike museum figure of the industrialist as part of the “Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation” exhibition. For more information, visit www.heinzhistorycenter.org.

 


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