November 25, 1835 – August 11, 1919
The rags-to-riches Scottish immigrant who fashioned what would become United States Steel and then withdrew to verdant Scotland.
The name Andrew Carnegie is well known; indeed he is one of the triumvirates of luminaries who make up the most illustrious members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club—along with Mellon and Frick. The bare outlines of his life are offered here; the reader can find many outstanding resources to flesh out the man and his contributions to American life, most notably in the comprehensive biography by David Nasaw.
If Andrew Carnegie had not lived, Horatio Alger would have had to invent him. He rose from a life of almost unspeakable tawdriness in Scotland to become a buttonholer of Presidents. Along the way he was praised, emulated, cartooned, consulted, celebrated and vilified. He ignored his father, whom he saw as a failure, and had an unusually close relationship with his mother Margaret who would remain his main confidant until her death. He concentrated on his rise to success in the rough-and-tumble industrial world of Pittsburgh to the detriment of all relationships other than familial.
As Carnegie said,
"The business career is a stern school of all the virtues. The business man pursues fortune."
Once having achieved that success, he then allowed himself to complete his late and long courtship of his eventual much-younger bride Louise Whitfield.
The wheeling and dealings that brought Carnegie to prominence in the aggressive world of Pittsburgh industrial escalation took him from errand boy to telegraph operator to indefatigable inside-trader and back-room dealer and then ruthless crusher of competitors. He was an expert at navigating the choppy waters of capitalism (and a stern critic of any of his employees who utilized similar tactics). As Carnegie said...
"The first man gets the oyster, the second man gets the shell."
In 1851, he became a telegraph messenger boy in the Pittsburgh Office of the Ohio Telegraph Company, at $2.50 per week, which was more than most day laborers were making—Carnegie was 16. Carnegie quickly learned to distinguish the differing sound the incoming signals produced and learned to transcribe it by ear without having to write it down, Thomas A. Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad employed Carnegie as a secretary/telegraph operator starting in 1853, at a salary of $4.00 per week. Carnegie began a rapid advancement through the company, eventually becoming the superintendent of the Pittsburgh Division. Scott also introduced Carnegie to the concept of making money without working, that is, his first investments. In 1855 he was able to invest $500 in Adams Express. Later he invested money in sleeping cars for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and bought part of the company making the wagons, which again turned out to be most profitable.
The handsome dividends he received from his oil investments enabled him to go into the iron and steel business. In 1865 he helped form a company to replace wooden railway bridges with iron bridges. At the same time he became a partner in a small iron-forging company in Pittsburgh.
Reinvesting his money in railroad related industries (iron, bridges, rails) he was able to slowly earn his first big capital, which would be the basis for his later success, as he concentrated on iron and steel manufacturing and the industries (raw materials, power and transportation) that fed his mills. In this he set up many companies in which he was the silent but majority stockholder.
He also expected his competitors to bow to his wishes and it was Carnegie’s custom that if they were granted contracts he would be in touch with them immediately and let them know that he expected to be given half of the contract for his own factories. To quote him again...
"Whatever I engage in, I must push inordinately."
When troubles came, in the form of The Johnstown Flood and The Homestead Steel Strike, Carnegie took infinite pains to distance himself as much as possible from any hint of involvement or blame. To this day, attempts are made to state that he was not a member of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club—no matter, these will not bear close scrutiny. He also reminded people again and again that he was off in Scotland during that little bit of unpleasantness at Homestead. Right. Off at Scotland but, as was his custom, connected electronically hour-by-hour and pulling the strings of his enterprises and minions via telegraph. Yet, he made every attempt to place all the blame on Frick and did his best to smile benevolently as he dedicated in Johnstown and Homewood some of his 2,500 eponymous libraries.
Carnegie was nothing if not disingenuous and self-indulgent. Usually, the public smiled back at him--glad for the crumbs from his table. They had had precious little in the way of wages or benefits, since Carnegie's oft-repeated managerial watchword was, "Watch the costs and the profits will take care of themseves."
No doubt few of the mill families in the crowds on dedication days knew of Mr. Carnegie's dictum:
"And while the law of competition may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department."
By 1899, when he consolidated his interests in the Carnegie Steel Company, he controlled about 25 percent of American iron and steel production. In 1901 Carnegie sold his company for $250 million to a syndicate formed by financier J P Morgan.
Having achieved all the wealth he could manage and more, Carnegie abandoned Pittsburgh, the smoky city that he helped in no small part to create, for a fantasy life as a pseudo-laird in Scotland and as a plutocrat in Manhattan. Occasionally he would throw money Pittsburgh’s way and thereafter there were many other charitable acts of the elderly Carnegie, as well as his attempts to be seen as a world peacemaker. Among his benefactions, Carnegie Tech (now part of Carnegie Mellon University), the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Peace Palace in The Hague, the Pan American Union Building in Washington DC and the Carnegie Hero's Fund.
These were, perhaps, his way of doing penance for the way he had made his millions.
There was a famous exchange between representatives of Frick and Carnegie that occurred late in their lives, when Carnegie had softened and hoped to make a rapprochement between them. Both were living in Manhattan, and Carnegie sent word to Frick that he would like for them to meet. The famous response to which was Frick’s, “Tell Mr. Carnegie I will meet him in hell, to which we are both going!” The exchange speaks volumes about both men. In contrast to almost every other South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club member, Carnegie seems to have had no religious affiliation during his long life.
Carnegie was too much of an age with Frick to be seen as a father figure, and Frick was far too successful already by the time they combined business forces for Carnegie to be accepted as Frick’s mentor. They were at times allies, then rivals and adversaries, competing in the small piece of turf that both had imagined that if labeled would have been called “The World’s Most Influential Man”. Neither really deserved the appellation. Frick was too cold and unbending and as the years progressed was out of touch with ordinary human life; Carnegie was too impressed with public opinion and lived too much in his Highland fantasies. As one observer has said, in the end, they were the elephants in each other's living rooms. Their cheerless twilight years were lost in bizarre competition.
In 1887 when Andrew Carnegie was 52 years old, he married Louise Whitfield of New York (7 March 1857 - 24 June 1946), whom he had courted for more than a decade. The extraordinarily long-suffering Louise was 22 years his junior; indeed, Louise’s father and Carnegie were the same age.
They had one daughter, Margaret Morrison Carnegie (1897-); married Roswell Miller.
The daughter of Margaret and Roswell Miller:
Margaret Miller () married Gordon Thompson.
The Carnegies purchased a vast estate in northern Scotland and built the castle of Skibo. Here each summer, Carnegie entertained the people who interested him most, particularly those in the world of literature, science, and education. It is now an ultra exclusive resort -- one may not stay there more than once without buying a membership. If you have to ask what a membership costs, you cannot afford it.
The Carnegie descendants live in Scotland and visit in the US from time to time.
Carnegie once suggested for his own epitaph, “Here lies a man who was able to surround himself with men far cleverer than himself.”
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More on Louise Whitfield Carnegie...
On Tuesday, June 24, Mrs. Andrew Carnegie died at her home in New York City, in her eighty-ninth year. This brought to an end a long and exceptional life of great distinction and fine living. Although since the death of her husband in 1919 Mrs. Carnegie had seldom visited Pittsburgh, she was known to many here for her high purpose, kindliness, and nobility of character. Notwithstanding the great wealth and prominence of her husband, she played her individual part in all his philanthropies as a counselor and an enthusiastic co-planner in his hopes for the betterment of the human race. She was self-effacing in her own benefactions, which were many, but fully lived up to what she felt to be the responsibilities placed upon her by her opportunities for service. A true lady in the old fashioned sense of the word, she was most gracious and kindly to all with whom she came in contact and could well be taken as an outstanding example of American womanhood.
Mrs. Carnegie Dies at 89 in New York. Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, 89, widow of the steel maker and philanthropist, died today at her Fifth Ave. mansion in New York City, according to an Associated Press report. A retiring woman, whose philanthropies always were conducted quietly, she had been in failing health for more than a year. A daughter, Mrs. Roswell Miller of New York, was at her bedside. A granddaughter, Mrs. Gordon Thompson, flew from England May 12 to be with her.
During her last public appearance in Pittsburgh, years ago, Mrs. Carnegie looked at the institutions of learning and culture her husband had given the city, and declared: "Here is the best conception of the idea of the brotherhood of man. I have never enjoyed a visit to any part of the world as I have this visit to Pittsburgh. "The former Louise Whitfield of New York, she had married Mr. Carnegie in 1887--38 years after he came to Pittsburgh from Scotland to work as a bobbin boy in a cotton factory. He had hitched his wagon to the rising stars of iron and steel and was a wealthy but lonely man.
Gave Away Half Billion.
Soon after their marriage he became the richest man the world has ever seen and one of the happiest. Speaking of his life with his 'beloved Lou,' Carnegie said: "Why, oh why, are we compelled to leave the heaven we have found on earth and go we know not where?" With his wife's help Carnegie also became a great philanthropist. In the 18 years from 1901 to 1919 he gave away the bulk of his fortune of half a billion dollars at the rate of $25,000,000 a year.
His beneficiaries included old employees, old friends, educational institutions, organizations for world peace, several nations, a United States President, three President's wives, a British prime minister and the City of Pittsburgh. The various money-giving corporations which he established still pour out from four to five million dollars a year. One night in August, 1919, after Mrs. Carnegie had said good night to her husband, he sank into his last sleep. He was buried on top of a small hill in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery near Tarrytown, N.Y.
Lived in Scotland.
During the last 27 years, Mrs. Carnegie led a quiet, retiring life in New York and Scotland. She met annually with the members of her late husband's corporations, made suggestions, and took great pride in their work. Meanwhile, she kept giving away sums of her own money. On the occasion of the Carnegie Centennial in 1935, a little gray-haired lady with a kindly voice, she reminisced: "Pittsburgh has a warm place in my heart. I have so many recollections of the lovely, affectionate friends whom I knew there." Her last public appearance with Andrew had been in Pittsburgh. He had said of her: "Peace and good will attend her footsteps wherever her blessed influence extends."
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Andrew Carnegie was 54 at the time of the Johnstown Flood.