Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Scotland in 1835. Andrew’s family was not rich but they were very smart and Andrew was encouraged to read and learn and voice his opinions. His father, William, was a weaver who made a good living until 1847 when Dunfermline opened to cloth factories using steam powered looms. Unemployed, William Carnegie and his family--his wife Margaret, 12 year old Andrew and Andrew’s 5 year old brother, Thomas—immigrated to America.
Andrew worked from the time he was 13, starting as a bobbin boy in a Pittsburgh factory. He was quick to seize any opportunity that would get him a better job and, by the time he was 18, he had moved from bobbin boy to clerk, from clerk to messenger boy, and from messenger boy to telegraph operator. During this time a local businessman, Col. James Anderson opened his private library to “working boys” one day a week, thus allowing Andrew to pursue his interests in literature and history even though he was not in school.
Working with the telegraph connected Andrew with the railroad business. Railroads were a major industry in America and especially in Pittsburgh. Andrew used his connections with the telegraph office to get a job with the Pennsylvania Railroads Western Division. Even before William Carnegie died in 1855, Andrew was his family’s main source of income.
Andrew made enough money in his railroad job to invest in other businesses, including oil, iron bridges and a telegraph company and he became more and more wealthy. During this whole time, Andrew continued reading and learning. He started to write essays and books about his experiences and about his thoughts on the world. Andrew felt that anyone who was wealthy had a duty to help those in need. He would follow this belief in many different ways his whole life.
Andrew retired from the railroad when he was 30 and opened his first steel plant when he was 40 in 1875. Carnegie stayed in the steel business until 1901. During those 26 years, steel became a huge business in Pittsburgh. Many people were employed in steel plants owned by Carnegie and by other companies. This was also an era of emigration and millions of people were leaving their homes to immigrate to America. The steel plants of Pittsburgh employed people from all over the world.
Steel plant work was hard labor and paid very little. Many steelworkers joined or tried to start unions so they could ask for better pay and work conditions as a group. Most of the people who owned the steel plants did not approve of unions and tried to have them outlawed or disbanded. Strikes resulted and often ended in riots, one of the worst of which was the Homestead Steel Strike of 1892 during which at least 16 people were killed. The Homestead Steelworks was a Carnegie Brothers Company steel factory.
After Andrew sold his steel company to J.P. Morgan in 1901 he was considered the Richest Man in the World. He followed through on his theory that the wealthy should help those in need and he spent the rest of his life donating his money to causes he thought were worthy. He is best known for the hundreds of libraries he founded worldwide, but he also gave money to help teachers, scientists, people who worked to establish peace around the world, and people who risked their lives to save others in times of danger. He founded a technical school in Pittsburgh, which is now Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a museum of art and a museum of natural history. By the time Andrew died in 1919 he had given away hundreds of millions of dollars.
This collection of papers covers many of the topics that caught Andrew’s attention, especially in his later years when he had turned his efforts to philanthropy. He wrote about many, many concerns of his day and was widely published. You will also find paperwork created when Andrew donated funds for various projects. There are also many items in this collection pertaining to Andrew’s personal life. He married Louise Whitfield in 1887 and the couple had one daughter, Margaret, who was born in 1897. Louise and Margaret helped Andrew with his philanthropy and the collection contains many letters to and from their friends and business associates.