Andrew Carnegie – Autobiography by David Nasaw

A businessman, a Scottish industrialist, a philanthropist, and the man who founded the Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Steel Company which eventually became U.S. Steel, Andrew Carnegie was known for establishing one of the most influential and powerful corporations in the United States and then later on donated his wealth to establish many schools, libraries, and Universities in Scotland as well as in the U.S. and to some countries throughout the continent. His humble beginnings as a poor boy in Scotland, armed with a fierce devotion to hard work, self-improvement, strong ambition, spiced with a pleasant personality, contributed much to his success and accomplishments. Starting as a telegrapher, he then work his way to the top by investing in bridges and oil derricks, railroads and railroad sleeping cars, and eventually was able to build a wealth as a bond salesman raising huge amount of investments in American and European enterprise. His belief that the rich should use their wealth to help enrich the society served as his vision and later was instrumental in his undertakings and contributions in the field of philanthropy, with great emphasis on scientific research, local libraries and world peace.

Born on the 25th of November 1835 in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland, living in an impoverished family, his early life was considered to be a self-educated one. His father, William Carnegie, made to a point that his children will receive an education to the utmost of his resources. Being a politically inclined person, his father was an activist and politically involved in the demonstrations against the Corn Laws, the abolition of the rotten boroughs, British House of Commons reforms, Catholic Emancipation, and the laws governing safety at work which was then later became the Factory Acts. His father was also a contributor in a radical pamphlet, the Cobbett’s Register. Another big influence in his early life aside from his father was his Uncle, George Lauder, who introduced him to Scottish Historical heroes such as William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and Rob Roy. He was also introduced to the great writings of Shakespeare and Robert Burns. He influenced the young Carnegie towards his idea in the United States of America as a role model for Democratic Institutions, which later in his life was seen towards his views regarding America. Another influence in his early life was his other uncle, Tom Kennedy, who was able to stir in his young mind his radical sentiment.

Though the early influences made the first mold in Andrew Carnegie’s life, his personal desire to learn through readings established his intellectual capabilities. Colonel James Anderson gave him that opportunity by opening his personal library of around 400 volumes and Carnegie was his consistent borrower.  This made him a self-made man in terms of intellectual and economic development.

His first job was a telegraph messenger in a Pittsburgh Office in 1851. It was by this time he developed his love for Shakespeare’s works. He then quickly learned how to identify the sounds of the incoming signals being produced and eventually learned how to transcribe the signals without even writing them. In 1853, he was then employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company as a secretary/ telegraph and later on promoted to superintendent of the Pittsburgh Division. His appointment helped him in his first investment named Adams Express. He then later on decided to invest money on the sleeping cars for the Railroad Company of Pennsylvania which turned out to be another profitable investment. He also Reinvested his money in the related railroad industries such as bridges, irons, and rails from which again proved to be very profitable for him. Through this he was able to gather his first big capital which served as a starting point for his success.

During the Civil War, he was appointed as a Superintendent of the Union Government’s telegraph lines and of the Military Railways. He was instrumental on bridging the rail lines towards Washington which the rebels had cut. He pioneered the Union troop’s First Brigade towards Washington and when the rebels were defeated at Bull Run, he personally supervised their transfer.  His leadership eventually proved significant in the success of the Union through his telegraph service during the war.

He then proceeded to increase his wealth through strategic and careful investments.In 1864; he invested in a $40,000 Storey farm on Oil Creek located at Venango County, Pennsylvania, which after one year yielded $1,000,000. He was also associated in establishing a steel roller mill, an investment in the iron industry which he started before the war, and later devoted his energies in the ironworks trade. He then established the Keystone Bridge Works and the Union Ironworks in Pittsburgh.  In 1880, his company – Carnegie Steel was considered the largest manufacturer of steel rails, coke, and pig iron in the world. He bought the rival Homestead Steel Works, which has a vast plant of iron fields and tributary coal, a line of lake steamships, and a 425-km long railway. In 1882, he established the Carnegie Steel Company, and later expanded his empire that included the J. Edgar Thomson Steel Works, the Lucy furnaces, the Union Mill, Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Works, Hartman Steel Works, Scotia Ore Mines and the Frick Coke Company (Livesay, 1999).

Aside from establishing his steel empire, Andrew Carnegie was also a scholar and an activist. He was able to make many friends in the political and literary worlds. He was also a correspondence of notable statesmen, writers, and had acquaintances with most of the United States Presidents. In 1881, his mother laid the foundation stone of the Carnegie Library at Dunfermline. Carnegie was also an advocate in the establishment of the British Republic and insisted on the abolition of the monarchy. He also wrote a book based on his personal experiences entitled An American Four–in-hand in Britain; he was also a regular article contributor to several magazines such as the Nineteenth Century and the North American Review. His most radical work, the Triumphant Democracy, discussed argumentatively his view between the British Monarchial System against the American Republican System. The book gave an idealized and a favorable view of the American progress and contained delicate criticisms over the British Royal Family. Though it made a considerable controversy in his Country, it was a successful in the United States selling almost 40,000 copies. In 1889, he published an article in the North American Review entitled “Wealth” that emphasized Carnegie’s life should consist of two parts: the accumulation of his wealth, and the distribution of it through charities (Nasaw, 2006).

After his retirement, he decided to spend the remaining of his life as a philanthropist. From an image of a business magnate he was slowly known to be of a public-spirited individual utilizing his vast resources on philanthropic activities and objects. His views on social responsibilities and subjects were already known in his books such as the Triumphant Democracy and the Gospel of Wealth. He settled his home partly in Skibo Castle, Sutherland, Scotland and partly in New York where he then later devoted his life towards providing necessary capital funds for the interests of the public and for educational and social advancement. Among his accomplishments were: a supporter of the spelling reform which aimed to promote the English language; established public libraries, most commonly called Carnegie Libraries, in the United Kingdom, in the United States, and in other English-speaking Countries, A total of around 3,000 libraries were founded in 47 States;  He helped in the establishment of the University of Birmingham in 1889; reformed both library design and library philanthropy which gave the way for free access; he donated $2,000,000 to establish the Carnegie Institute of Technology at Pittsburgh which later became part of the Carnegie Mellon University; established a trust fund to provide education at Scottish University; funded the construction of around 7,000 church organs; a trust fund for his employees; he also established the Carnegie Laboratory, Carnegie Hall in New York, and  the Carnegie Hero Fund.

On October 14, 1917, he was honored for his philanthropic works by an initiation of the Phi MU Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity as an honorary member. The mission of the fraternity reflects Carnegie’s views and values towards developing young men and making the world a better place by consciously sharing their talents.

It was approximated that he gave away $350, 000,000 during his lifetime and an approximate of $30 Million was given to charities, pensioners, and foundations after his death on August 11, 1919.

Andrew Carnegies life, illustrated his tremendous hope for humanity resembling a humanistic view on life. He kept himself secluded from any organized religion thus becoming a positivist. His humanistic point of view towards achieving a better world manifested on his contributions to humanity. Based on his ideals that wealth should be distributed towards benevolent causes, his goals were realized and continuously being benefited by human kind.


Nasaw, David (2006). Andrew Carnegie. New York : The Penguin Press.

Livesay, Harold C (1999). Andrew Carnegie and the Rise of Big Business, 2nd Edition.

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