Andrew Carnegie was a legendary figure in his own time and a nineteenth century icon, becoming the largest steel producer not only in the United States, but in the entire steel industry. Carnegie was one of the most influential philanthropists in American history. He built more than 2,800 lending libraries internationally and became one of the nation’s most significant grant makers. Carnegie was born in Dunfernline, Scotland on November 25, 1835. He was the son to a handloom weaver by the name of William Carnegie and his mother Margaret. By the age of twelve, his family faced economic hardships and moved to the United States seeking better opportunities. In 1885, Carnegie began founding the construction of thousands of libraries. As a child, he spent his Saturdays afternoons at col. James Anderson’s library in Alleghany City. Col. Anderson provided his four hundred volume library for working boys at no cost and this would influence Carnegie’s later life. (Smith, Rollin p. 54)
Carnegie believed that the access to books should be a birthright and eventually he spent 56 million for public libraries of which approximately 800 were located outside the United States. Before the civil war, the iron industry was concentrated in eastern Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey, but with the production of steel, the population and the industry moved westward as well. Andrew Carnegie built his own steel industry which generated much of his wealth. On a trip to England, Carnegie learned a new method for making steel called the Bessemer process. This invention cheapened the price of steel making and it also became less time consuming. For Carnegie’s economic wealth the Bessemer process was extremely beneficial but it also placed a greater strain on his workers. (Bell, Fiona p.180)
Carnegie was said to be a Robber baron because he did whatever was necessary in order to succeed, which included exploiting his workers and closing down mills to cut prices. Although skilled and unskilled workers worked at the same plant, they were treated differently. The skilled workers were born in America and spoke English, as for the unskilled workers, they emigrated from different countries and didn’t speak English. The English speakers with the skilled jobs lived on the hill and the Slavs and Hungarians who were considered unskilled lived in the cluttered alleys by the tracks behind the hill. One of the most dangerous occupations in the 19th century was iron working and Carnegie forced his workers to work long hour shifts with little to no brakes, in addition they were forced to work under unfit and inhumane working conditions including extremely hot temperatures. Competition was a driving force for Carnegie as he forced these men and women to work for less than thirty cents an hour and the only holiday they got off was July 4. (“ Shanker, “Albert:100 Years”.) also (see fig. 2).
On July 1892, workers at the Carnegie Steel Company in Homestead Pennsylvania gathered at the site and began a strike in the hopes for better working conditions, a salary increase to at least minimum wage, and most importantly for the rights of the workers Union. The Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers was the nation’s strongest trade union during this time and they were unwilling to tolerate any humiliation from Carnegie and his chairman Henry Frick, who became infuriated at this site. Frick who was determined to break up the Union hired 300 Pinkerton detectives to protect the plant and strikebreakers which resulted in an armed battle between the workers and the detectives on July 6, of 1892. Although the Union fought hard for its workers, it wasn’t able to prevail against the combined power of Carnegie’s Corporation and the US Government. As a result, the Homestead strike led to the weakening of unionism in the steel industry until the 1930’s. (Shanker, “Albert. 100 Years”).
Fundamentally, Andrew Carnegie devoted half of his life redistributing his wealth amongst those who he felt was less fortunate. Others believe the truth about Carnegie’s life is rarely told. Carnegie thought of himself as a socialist who cared about humanity, but he often practiced aggression against individual rights, especially those of his workers. Carnegie believed it was unnecessary to pay workers more than the minimum they needed. In addition, Author David Nasaw recalls that Carnegie’s assessment of the black race in the United States was that they were less developed than their white counterparts.
During his lifetime, Andrew Carnegie accumulated many assets such as institutions, libraries, Universities, and also composed his most famous essay, The Gospel Of Wealth written in 1889. Although Carnegie died on August 11, 1919 he pursued politics and peace. Andrew Carnegie was nominated to have his busts installed in the Hall of Fame for great Americans, but in 1979, the hall of fame trustees decided to officially suspend elections due to lack of funding’s. Although Carnegie became a philanthropist who gave back to his community, he gave away money in order to justify what he’d done to acquire that money. (Theroux, Karen p. 45)
Nilcer Arzu Writing Intensive
Bell, Fiona. "The Carnegie Corporation Decides On Racially-Segregated Libraries In South Africa In 1928: Negrophilist Or Segregationist?." Library & Information History 25.3 (2009): 174-189. Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.
Shanker, Albert. "100 Years After The Homestead Lockout." New Republic 207.11/12 (1992): 8. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 March 2014.
Smith, Rollin. "Pipe Organs Of The Rich And Famous Andrew Carnegie: The Organ's Great Philanthropist."American Organist Magazine 44.3 (2010): 54-57. Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.
Theroux, Karen. "A CENTURY OF PHILANTHROPY: Carnegie Corporation Of New York." American Libraries42.9/10 (2011): 44-45. Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.
Fig 1: “The labor troubles at Homestead, Pa. - Attack of the strikers and their sympathizers on the surrendered Pinkerton men,” 1892. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
Fig 2: Andrews, E. Benjamin. History of the United States, volume V. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. 1912.