Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie became one of the wealthiest men America had ever seen. Yet he wrote, "the man who dies rich, dies disgraced." What did he mean by that? He became rich—but he gave his money away. All of it.

Carnegie was born in Scotland and came to America as a young boy—or as a lad, as the Scots say. He started working in a cotton factory at age twelve. He was a bobbin boy—he ran back and forth between machines, changing spools of thread called bobbins. He got a better job—as a telegraph clerk—then became secretary to an important railroad company official. That's when his career really took off. He sold railroad commissions on Wall Street and later made money in the oil business. But his real wealth came when he revolutionized the steel industry.

Using new methods, efficient management, and cheap labor, Carnegie soon controlled the American steel business. He paid his workers poorly and hated unions. During a strike at Carnegie's Homestead steel plant in Pennsylvania, his manager fired all the workers and brought in armed guards. Violence erupted, and twenty workers and four policemen died.

Carnegie became fabulously—or obscenely—wealthy. He owned a castle in Scotland, huge tracts of land, and a massive mansion on New York City's Fifth Avenue (known as Millionaire's Row). His workers, meanwhile, lived in poverty. They worked over twelve hours a day at dangerous, exhausting factory jobs.

But at age sixty-six, Carnegie changed his mind about money—or at least about his money. He said that millionaires had a duty to give away their wealth to worthy causes. He began giving his money away. Carnegie built libraries, and gave money to colleges, schools, and foundations. When he died in 1919, he had given away over $350,000,000. In his will, Carnegie distributed the rest of his money. He had lived up to his ideal.

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