Andrew Carnegie and the American Steel Industry

Andrew Carnegie: 1835 – 1919

Andrew Carnegie, a poor immigrant from Scotland, would become one of the richest and most successful people in the U.S., representing the American Dream. Carnegie was a hard worker and made his way to the “center of the American Steel Industry” (An Empire of Wealth, 245). What separates Carnegie from other Rich people of his time is his philanthropist works. Throughout his lifetime he would donate $380,695,653 to foundations, charities and other ways to improve the poorer classes.

ChildHood Jobs

The Carnegie family moved from Scotland to Allegheny, Pennsylvania for the prospect of a better life. Allegheny was a very poor area and Andrews first job was as a bobbin boy at age 13. His starting wage was $1.20 per week. 2 years later Andrew became a telegraph messenger boy and received $2.50 per week. Within a year he was able to translate telegraphs without a slip and was promoted to operator. 3 years later in 1853 he became secretary telegraph operator for Thomas Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad company. He now earned $4.00 per week. He then began to develop a closer relationship with Scott allowing him investing opportunities in the railroad industry.  His mom helped him secure $500 on a mortgage for their $700 home, to invest in the Adams Express (another railroad). This would pay off and he would be saving up capital that would lead into success in the future.

Accumulating Wealth and Carnegie Steel 

During the Civil War Carnegie worked on several transportation investment opportunities while personally being in charge of the defeated forces. Defeating the confederacy required massive amounts of supplies and showed how integral these industries were to American Success. At this point Carnegie still did not have enough capital to pursue the steel industry. Then, in 1864, he invested $40,000 in Story Farm which would yield over $1,000,000 in dividends. After the war he focused all his energy on iron works, using his relationships from the Pennsylvania railroad eventually opening his own steel plant. This would lead into Carnegie Steel and Andrew would buy out most of the competition. Eventually, he would agree to a buy out by the United States Steel Corporation, his share was $225,639,000 that he would through 5% 50-year gold bonds. Now that he had a fortune, what was Andrew Carnegie going to do with it?

Heres a short video summary about Carnegie and His success in Steel

Words from Andrew Carnegie

“I propose to take an income no greater than $50,000 per annum! Beyond this I need ever earn, make no effort to increase my fortune, but spend the surplus each year for benevolent purposes! Let us cast aside business forever, except for others. Let us settle in Oxford and I shall get a thorough education, making the acquaintance of literary men. I figure that this will take three years active work. I shall pay especial attention to speaking in public. We can settle in London and I can purchase a controlling interest in some newspaper or live review and give the general management of it attention, taking part in public matters, especially those connected with education and improvement of the poorer classes. Man must have no idol and the amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry! No idol is more debasing than the worship of money! Whatever I engage in I must push inordinately; therefore should I be careful to choose that life which will be the most elevating in its character. To continue much longer overwhelmed by business cares and with most of my thoughts wholly upon the way to make more money in the shortest time, must degrade me beyond hope of permanent recovery. I will resign business at thirty-five, but during these ensuing two years I wish to spend the afternoons in receiving instruction and in reading systematically!”


This period of Andrew Carnegie’s life is what makes him so unique and such a valuable person in the economic history of the United States. It is said that more than 2,800 libraries were opened with his support. Several are under his name while many others received funding without any recognition. Although it was written that he would commit to education and the community at age 35, Carnegie more than made up for the wait. The extra 25-30 years of work allowed for him to accumulate even more wealth and when you compare his career and buy out amount with what he donated, its easy to see that 60-70% of his earnings went towards our economies education or community. At one point, Carnegie possessed 4% of all wealth in the United States. That is amazing for a boy from Scotland that started working for a $1.20 per week. I also feel that his commitment to his goals set a great example for people to follow.

Written Works:

– Gospel of Wealth (1889)

– Triumphant Democracy (1886)

My Opinion

Overall, it’s people like Andrew Carnegie that make me happy to be an american. A country that rewards people who work hard and never give up. There is a big trend throughout history when you look at entrepreneurs. That is, they weren’t lucky, they made their own luck. Wealth can consume many and thats when character really shows. If you are a kind hearted person, wealth will only make you more generous. If you are a selfish person it will make you more self conceded. Andrew Carnegie set a standard for giving back at a level that is ridiculously high. Without him the United States wouldn’t be the same.

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  • An Empire of Wealth – Chapter 13