Andrew Carnegie: The Man Who Embodied the ‘All American Dream’

Andrew CarnegieAndrew Carnegie was born one evening on November 25, 1835, of Scottish heritage. He went on to becoming a towering figure of American industry and later on in life, one of the world’s greatest business magnate, who effectively dedicated his final years of life to philanthropy and world peace.

Carnegie was instrumental in leading the expansion of the entire American steel industry way back when America was just coming out of its infancy period in the 19th century. As a matter of fact, he is quite often identified as being pretty much, one of the richest people as well as being one of the richest American who ever lived.  He also became a well-known and leading philanthropist not just in the United States but also throughout the vast dominions of the British Empire. But later on, he became disillusioned with the vagaries of this fickle world and dedicated the last two decades of his life towards essentially giving away his massive fortune to the less fortunate.

As a matter of fact, he wrote an article in 1889 known as the “Gospel of Wealth.” In that article he actively called on the super-rich to use their huge wealth reserves to improve the lot of society in general and to stimulate a veritable Tsunami of philanthropic endeavors.

–   Early life

Mr. Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline in Scotland. He was initially educated at the Free School in the town of Dunfermline. This school had actually been gifted to the town by the renowned philanthropist Adam Rolland of Gask. The fact that his early education was the product of a philanthropist’s generosity was to have a profound influence in his later life.

Apart from Rolland, it was his uncle, George Lauder Sr., a well-known political leader in Scotland who had, deeply influenced him as a boy.  By introducing him to the writings of of the young Scott Nationalist Robert Burns and other historical heroes that have been the pride of Scotland since ages past. Men of myth and legend such as Robert the Bruce (of King Bruce and the Spider fame), William Wallace (immortalized by Mel Gibson in the super hit move “Braveheart”), and Rob Roy and this is why he remained proud of his Scott heritage til his last years. When he entered his teens, the nation was suffering a famine and his father’s business had suffered a terrible loss and his mom became the primarily bread earner of this family.

This is why his family immigrated to the United States of America in search of a better life, back in 1848. He initially started work in a telegraph office as an operator. He used his salary to make shrewd investments in different industries. And by the 1860s he had business interests in railroad sleeping cars, railroads, bridges, and even oil derricks (he was one of the first people to discover the vast economic potential of oil as the harbinger of the 20th century’s rush towards modernization of transport and industry).  Later on, he went on to accumulate even more wealth as a bond salesman. In this regard, he traveled all over the ‘old continent’ to raise funds for American enterprises, especially in mainland Europe.  He had also built the Pittsburgh Carnegie Steel Company. When he sold it to fellow tycoon J. P. Morgan at the turn of the last century, the deal amounted to $303,450,000. A staggering sum for those days. Once the deal came through, he even surpassed America’s wealthiest man John D. Rockefeller to become the richest American of that time.

–   Adjusting to life in America

In his initial days in America he proved himself to be a really hard worker and would easily memorize all of the locations of Pittsburgh’s businesses as well as the faces of various important men who formed the “whose who’ list of his adopted country. As a matter of fact, this picture perfect memory aided him no end, in making many an important connection this way. He was so good as his job that he was actually   ale to distinguish the myriad differing sounds that the incoming telegraph signals produced, and he became one of the very few telegraphists around, who could translate telegraph signals by ear, without even using a paper slip. This is why his promotion to full-fledged operator status occurred within a few short months of him, even seeing the inside of a telegraph office for the very first time.

It was around that time that Colonel James Anderson, a leading philanthropist of those times, opened his own personal library of 400 books that were available for working boys every Saturday night. Carnegie was able to quench his thirst for knowledge to a certain degree thanks to this library. It helped him a lot in not just his economic development but also both his intellectual as well as cultural development too. In fact, so intense was his deep seated gratitude for the good Colonel Anderson who had so graciously allowed his personal library to be accessed by young boys who had no way of acquiring any books of their own that Carnegie made a personal resolution in the following words, if ever wealth came to me, [to see to it] that other poor boys might receive opportunities similar to those for which we were indebted to the noble man”.

Indeed, this was a promise that he had fulfilled to the best of his abilities and the knowledge he had acquired from this library, when added to the potent mix of innate intelligence and his willingness to hard long and hard, as well as his perseverance actually bought him the opportunities that made him the man he became.

–   His wealth and philanthropy

He created his own steel empire and was renowned for being the foremost steel magnate in the country. He integrated all aspects of steel manufacturing, from iron ore to finished product in his industry and used this wealth to branch out into other business interests. However, his most endearing accomplishments had more to do with the fulfillment of his promise, early on in life.

That is, the setting up of free public libraries all over the north American continent. A task for which he is renowned to this day. He died on August 11, 1919, leaving a great legacy in his wake.

by Bobby J Davidson

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