Andrew Carnegie Biography – Scottish-American Industrialist, Steel Magnate, Philanthropist, Legacy

Andrew Carnegie Biography
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Andrew Carnegie. Theodore C. Marceau, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Andrew Carnegie Biography and Legacy

Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist, who led the expansion of the American Steel industry in the late 19th century.

Carnegie became one of the richest Americans in history and a leading philanthropist. In his later years, he used his wealth to improve society and encouraged other wealthy people to do the same. He is often regarded as the definition of a self-made man.

Early Life

Andrew Carnegie was born on 25th November 1835 in Dunfermline, Scotland, to William and Margaret Carnegie.

The family lived in a small weaver’s cottage much like all the other houses in the town. The cottage had one main room, which served as a living room, bedroom, and dining room. Half of the ground floor was shared with a neighboring family.

Barely a year after Carnegie’s birth, the family moved to a bigger house after the demand for heavy demask increased, benefiting his father.

Early Education

Andrew Carnegie was educated at the Free School in Dunfermline, which had been a gift to the town from Scottish judge and philanthropist Adam Rolland of Gask.

In his early years, Carnegie was greatly influenced by his maternal uncle, George Lauder Sr., who was a Scottish political leader. Lauder introduced him to the great heroes of Scottish history such as Sir William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and Rob Roy, and to the writings of poet and lyricist Robert Burns, who is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland.

Moving to Pennsylvania

By 1847, the Carnegies were in great financial difficulty and were struggling to make ends meet.

Carnegie’s father’s weaving business had suffered and the country was starving. Unable to deal with life in Scotland anymore the family borrowed money from Lauder and decided to move to Allegheny, Pennsylvania, in America, in search of a better life.

In September of 1848, they arrived in Allegheny.

Carnegie’s First Job

As soon as the family arrived in America, Andrew Carnegie and his father began working at a Scottish-owned cotton mill called Anchor Cotton Mills.

Carnegie worked as a bobbin boy, where he changed spools of thread in a cotton mill, working 12 hours a day for 6 days a week. He was soon approached by a Scottish manufacturer of bobbins, John Hay, who offered him a job for two dollars a week. However, this job proved to be much more difficult and tiring than the factory. He had to run a small steam engine and fire the boiler in the cellar of the bobbin factory.

By his own admission, he found the job too overwhelming. He kept trying the steam gauges, constantly worrying that either the steam might be too low and the workers would complain that they did not have enough power, or that the steam might be too high and the boiler might burst.

Working as a Telegraph Messenger

In 1849, Andrew Carnegie, aged 14, began working as a telegraph messenger boy for the Ohio Telegraph Company, working out of its Pittsburg Office for two and a half dollars per week. He got the job on his uncle’s recommendation.

Carnegie worked hard and sincerely, memorizing all the locations of Pittsburg businesses and the faces of important men. He learned to distinguish the different sounds produced by the incoming telegraph signals, while also developing the ability to translate these signals by ear, without using the paper slip.

He became so good at his job that he was soon made an operator.

Passion for Reading

Even though Andrew Carnegie had not received much formal education, he developed a passion for reading and learning.

This passion for reading and learning was further fueled by Colonel James Anderson, who was an educator, US Army Officer, and railroad contractor. Colonel Anderson opened up his personal library to working children every Saturday night. Carnegie became a regular visitor and borrower of books from the library. He read widely and with great interest, and the books he read had a profound influence on his cultural and intellectual development.

He was grateful to Colonel Anderson for allowing him to use his library and he made a promise to himself that if he ever became wealthy, he too would help poor children with opportunities to learn and educate themselves.

Working for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company

In 1853, Andrew Carnegie, aged 18, was asked by Thomas Alexander Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company to work for the railroad company as a secretary cum telegraph operator for four dollars per week.

Carnegie weighed his options and accepted the offer as he saw more potential for career growth and experience at the railroad company than at the telegraph company.

Six years later, in 1859, Carnegie was promoted to superintendent of the western division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. This promotion was significant to his later success. He began earning $1,500 a year and quickly hired his younger brother, Tom, and his cousin, Maria Hogan, to work as telegraph operators.

It was during this time that he learned about management and cost control. He also made two very important and close connections with John Edgar Thomson (President of the Railroad Company) and Thomas Alexander Scott, which would later prove quite beneficial for him.

Early Investments

While he was serving as the superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, Andrew Carnegie began making his first investments with the help and guidance of Thomas A. Scott.

Many of these investments included inside trading in companies that the railroad did business with, or payoffs made by contracting parties as part of a quid pro quo. Such corruption was frequently indulged in by Scott and Thomson themselves.

In this way, Carnegie invested in the investment company Adams Express and even received some shares in American inventor Theodore Tuttle Woodruff‘s sleeping car company. He then reinvested his returns in railroad-related industries such as bridges, rails, and iron. It was through these investments that he slowly began accumulating some fortune.

Civil War Years

In 1861, during the Civil War, Thomas Scott was appointed as Assistant Secretary of War in charge of military transportation.

While he worked in his new capacity, Scott appointed Andrew Carnegie as Superintendent of the Military Railways and the Union Government’s telegraph lines in the east. Carnegie helped to open up the rail lines into Washington D.C. that had been cut out by the rebels. It is said that he rode the locomotive that carried the first brigade of Union troops to Washington, and personally supervised the transportation of the forces after their defeat at Bull Run.

Under his directions, the telegraph and railroad services rendered great service to the Union cause, helping the forces to their eventual victory.

Post-War Years

Carnegie’s investments in the Columbia Oil Company and in other companies in the iron industry had begun to reap rewards. His investments were highly successful and he was gaining a large fortune from them now.

After the war, Andrew Carnegie decided to leave the railroad company and devote his time to the ironworks trade. He established and developed several ironworks, eventually establishing the Keystone Bridge Company and the Union Ironworks, wherein he gave stocks to Scott and Thomson.

Carnegie continued to remain close to Scott and Thomson, using this connection to acquire contracts for his ironworks business. His businesses supplied bridges and rails to the Pennsylvania Railroad, which had by then become his best and most profitable client.

Conquering the Steel Industry

By the mid-1880s, Andrew Carnegie was controlling the most extensive integrated iron and steel operations ever owned by an individual in America, resulting in his acquiring a massive fortune in the steel industry.

Carnegie’s steel empire became the largest manufacturer of steel rails, pig iron, and coke in the world, and had the ability to produce approximately 2,000 tons of pig iron per day.

In 1892, Carnegie and several of his close associates formed the Carnegie Steel Company to manage businesses at steel mills in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. His steel empire grew to include several other iron and steel companies.

Retiring from Business

By 1901, Andrew Carnegie, aged 66, was contemplating retirement from business life. He had already reformed his enterprises into conventional joint-stock companies in order to prepare for his retirement.

On 2nd March 1901, John Pierpont Morgan (America’s biggest financier and banker), bought out Carnegie’s steel companies and that of several other major producers in the steel industry and integrated them into a single company called the United States Steel Corporation.

The buyout was the largest industrial takeover in American history to date. The newly formed company was the first corporation in the world with a market capitalization of over one billion dollars.

Carnegie’s steel enterprises were bought out for $303,450,000, finally allowing Carnegie to retire from the business and surpass John D. Rockefeller as the richest American for the next several years.

Carnegie the Writer

In spite of his tremendous success as a businessman and an industrialist, Andrew Carnegie was much more than just that. He had a literary side to him, with literary ambitions. He frequently contributed articles to various magazines such as the North American Review and The Nineteenth Century. Several of his articles dealt with labor issues.

He wrote four well-received books on travel, Our Coaching Trip, Brighton to Inverness, An American Four-in-hand in Britain, and Round the World. Two of his most famous works include Triumphant Democracy (in which he extols the beauty of American Democracy over British Monarchy), and The Gospel of Wealth (in which he describes the responsibility and importance of philanthropy by the rich).

His works on business include The Empire of Business and The Secret of Business is the Management of Men. His autobiography, titled Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie, was published posthumously.

Carnegie even befriended several literary figures such as Matthew Arnold, Herbert Spencer, and Mark Twain.

Anti-Imperialist Views and Philosophy

Andrew Carnegie was a staunch anti-imperialist when it came to American colonization of the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. Although he did not say much regarding the American colonization of the latter three, he was particularly opposed to the annexation of the Phillippines.

Carnegie believed that the Filipinos should be allowed to live with their independence and that annexing it would be a violation of the democratic principle that America claimed to adhere to. He even urged William McKinley to withdraw American troops from the Philippines.

When the United States bought the Phillippines from Spain for 20 million dollars, Carnegie offered the same amount from his personal wealth so that the Phillippines could purchase its independence from the United States. But, unfortunately, nothing came of it.

In 1898, he joined the American Anti-Imperialist League, which was established to oppose the American annexation of the Phillippines, and soon became its vice president. The League included other important figures such as Mark Twain, Benjamin Harrison, and Grover Cleveland.

Carnegie’s philosophy in life was quite different and even benevolent in many aspects when compared to other rich men of the time. He believed that the first third of one’s life should be spent on getting all the education one can. The next third should be spent on making all the money one can. And the last third should be spent on giving away all the money earned for worthwhile causes.

Carnegie identified as a Positivist and was highly influenced by British radical and liberal statesman John Bright.

Views on Wealth

Andrew Carnegie also seemed to hold interesting views on wealth, which was again in stark contrast to most rich men of the time.

He believed that progressive taxation and the imposition of heavy estate tax at death were essential and necessary and that the growing disposition to tax more heavily large estates left at death was an important indication of the growth of a salutary change in public opinion. It was his opinion that the wealth hoarded by men all their lives should be put to proper use for public ends and for the good of the community.

Carnegie also believed that money was not as important as the mind, saying that it was the mind that made the body rich. He considered the class that only had money and nothing else to be pitiably wretched. For Carnegie, money was a useful drudge of things higher than itself.

He also remarked that amassing wealth was one of the worst species of idolatry and nothing was more debasing than the worship of money.


In his final years, Andrew Carnegie dedicated his time and energy to philanthropic activities.

He would go on to dedicate the rest of his life to providing funds for the social and educational advancement of society. He established several public libraries throughout America, Canada, Britain, and other English-speaking countries like New Zealand, Australia, West Indies, Fiji, South Africa, and Ireland.

The first of his public libraries was opened in 1883 in his hometown of Dunfermline. In total, Carnegie is said to have as opened and funded around 3,000 public libraries.

Carnegie also invested heavily in educational institutions. He founded the Carnegie Institute of Technology (CIT) at Pittsburg and the Carnegie Institution for Science (CIS) in Washington D.C. He also served on the boards of Cornell University and Stevens Institute of Technology.

In his native Scotland, Carnegie established a charitable trust called the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. He donated 10 million dollars for its establishment, which was then an unprecedented sum.

Carnegie was also an important benefactor of the Tuskegee Institute for African-American education, which was run by the African-American educator Booker T. Washington, and also funded the National Negro Business League founded by Washington to promote the interests of African-American businesses.

Toward the end of his life, Carnegie became probably one of the greatest philanthropists of his time.


On 11th August 1919, Andrew Carnegie, aged 83, died of bronchial pneumonia in Lenox, Massachusetts, at his Shadow Brook estate.

By the time of his death, Carnegie had given away almost 90% of his wealth, while the remaining 10% was given to pensioners, charities, and foundations.

Carnegie was interred at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetry in Sleepy Hollow, New York.


To many, Andrew Carnegie’s life represents the quintessential American dream. An immigrant who arrived in America poor and then went on to become one of the richest and most successful men in America.

Since his death, Andrew Carnegie is largely known for his great philanthropy work. And many who know about him admire his business acumen and shrewdness.

Carnegie did go to some lengths, which might be deemed controversial or wrong, or corrupt, to acquire his fortune over the years. But he made up for it by being a generous philanthropist in the later years of his life.

He now serves as an inspiration to people who want to make something out of their lives. He was a self-made man, who educated himself and acquired great wealth and success through hard work, perseverance, and shrewdness. He is a shining example to everyone out there that it does not matter how or where one is born, but through education, hard work, and perseverance, one can go on to achieve whatever one dreams of achieving.

Carnegie’s legacy continues to live on through his numerous foundations, charities, and universities.