Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie began the steel industry in Pittsburgh and innovated in both the organization of steel companies and the uses of steel in engineering and manufacturing. He became one of the wealthiest men in history and pioneered the idea that American business could be philanthropic.

Andrew Carnegie immigrated to the United States with his humble Scottish family in 1848; they settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. As an adult, he realized success in many business ventures, including those in oil, Great Lakes trade, and railways. He invested well, with good timing and insight about the needs and direction of the country. Many of his projects revolutionized businesses. For example, he promoted the first viable sleeping cars for the railroads. Carnegie and his associates also became the first bridge-building firm to use iron rather than wood. In 1875, he started a Pennsylvania steel plant and began supplying track for the railroads. He merged with Henry Clay Frick, Henry ClayFrick, a coke dealer, in 1881. By the end of the decade, Carnegie’s operations had made the United States the world’s leading exporter of Steel industrysteel.Carnegie, Andrew

Andrew Carnegie.

(Library of Congress)

Carnegie’s association with Frick would prove to have dire consequences for Carnegie’s reputation as a supporter of American workers. While Carnegie was in Europe on vacation, he asked Frick to manage a labor problem at his company. Although Frick knew that Carnegie was a defender of unions, Frick ordered a lockout, and a strike ensued. Frick enlisted the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, a notorious union-busting security company. Pinkerton agents engaged in a twelve-hour shootout against the striking workers, who finally retaliated. The state militia was required to intervene to reopen the mill.

Eventually, Carnegie organized Carnegie Steel CorporationCarnegie Steel Company. This company became the most influential firm in the world. As owner of the world’s biggest steel company, he became extremely wealthy. Adjusted for inflation, he is commonly listed as the second wealthiest person in the history of the world. Not only did Carnegie originate numerous projects beneficial to the public, but he also urged American business to do more to promote the welfare of others. In a time of robber barons who plundered the country, his good works underscored the message to industrialists of his famous 1889 essay, “The Gospel of Wealth”: Those who are successful in business should do as much as they can to contribute to humanity. (It is important to note that Carnegie dreamed of becoming a Philanthropyphilanthropist in 1868, long before his great financial success.)

Carnegie’s legacy includes museums, schools, research facilities, funds for education, and institutions devoted to the study of peace and ethics. In 1901, he sold his steel company to J. P. Morgan, J. P.Morgan, who turned it into the United States Steel Corporation (U.S. Steel). Considering Carnegie’s contributions to the U.S. economy and Philanthropyphilanthropy, it seems fitting that a dinosaur is named after him: Diplodocus carnegiei can be seen at the Carnegie museum in Pittsburgh. It was discovered on a trip sponsored by the philanthropist.

Further Reading

  • Carnegie, Andrew.“The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie” and “The Gospel of Wealth.” New York: Signet, 2006.
  • Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.
  • Standiford, Les. Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America. New York: Crown, 2005.


Gilded Age

Homestead strike

J. P. Morgan

Panic of 1907

Robber barons

John D. Rockefeller

Steel industry

United States Steel Corporation