Andrew Carnegie arrived in America as a penniless 13-year-old. He was a stranger in a strange land. As an immigrant, the odds were stacked against him. Through hard work and self-belief, Carnegie would become the richest man in the world. He left a mixed legacy as one of the world’s greatest philanthropists and a ruthless businessman.
The boy from Scotland was born in 1835 into poverty. Faced with starvation or emigration, his family chose the latter. They borrowed their travel expenses and headed to the USA.
The sea journey wasn’t for the fainthearted. Already showing the work ethic he would become famous for, Carnegie began to work odd jobs on the ship.
In the new country, Carnegie got a job in a textile mill. For one dollar and twenty cents per week, the young man worked like a mule.
He would later remember, “In the work itself I took no pleasure; but the cloud had a silver lining. I was doing something for my family. I have made millions since, but none of those millions gave me such happiness as my first week’s earnings. I was now a breadwinner.”
While working, Carnegie attended night school. At the age of 18, he began working for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. In six years he became the company’s superintendent.
He shrewdly invested his wages in bridges, iron mills, locomotives, and oil fields. At the age of thirty, he left the railroad industry and began building his steel business.
In December 1868, a 33-year-old Carnegie had a net worth of $400,000. This was enough money for a lifetime. He promised that he would give any future fortune away to charity.
By the time of his death in 1919, Carnegie had given away $5 billion in today’s money.
The age in which Carnegie lived was ruthlessly competitive. It was dog eat dog. Carnegie was both a philanthropist and a tough employer.
By 1892, advances in technology left many of his workers worried about losing their jobs.
On June 30th of that year, they went on an unsuccessful strike. After a long and bloody battle, Carnegie won. Three hundred agents of the Pinkerton security company hired by Carnegie to break the strike killed seven employees and injured hundreds in the process.
Carnegie was publicly in favor of labor unions. He once said, “No steel mill was worth a single drop of blood.” The bloody strike made a mockery of his words.
In 1901, Carnegie sold his steel company to J.P. Morgan for 480 million dollars. He used the money to fund peace organizations and to build universities, museums, and libraries.
Carnegie once said, “The man who dies rich, dies disgraced.”
Carnegie spent his latter years striving to prove that point.
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