Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 9. Segment 3
An Interesting Time

America has another problem in 1876. It has to do with poor people. The gap between rich and poor is getting wider and wider. Jobs are hard to find. In New York City in 1876, 900 people die of hunger See It Now - A New York City Slum. But while some starve, others have so much money they do nothing much but show it off See It Now - "The Hearthstone of the Poor". At Newport, Rhode Island, a grandson of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt lives in a sumptuous summerhouse he calls a "cottage." It has seventy rooms. At one of his parties, guests are given silver buckets and shovels to dig for rubies and diamonds in a sandbox set in the middle of the dining-room table. The writer Mark Twain See It Now - Mark Twain calls this time of affluence "a Gilded Age." It is an age of extremes.

In Scotland the parents of a boy named Andrew Carnegie See It Now - Andrew Carnegie sang these words to him when he was little: "To the West, to the West, to the land of the free, where the might Missouri rolls down to the sea."

Carnegie would come to the United States and, all by himself, write a big chapter in the story of the Gilded Age. It was a rags-to-riches story about a man who began life as a poor immigrant and lived to control the lives of thousands of factory workers and laborers. It was about a man who became a multimillionaire, yet later gave away most of his riches.

Andrew Carnegie was born in a stone cottage in Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1835. His father was a weaver who worked at a hand loom. But when the Industrial Revolution came to Scotland, Andrew's father could find no work and the family headed for America. Andrew's first job was as a bobbin boy in a textile factory See It Now - A Textile Factory in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, when he was twelve years old. He worked from six in the morning to six at night for $1.20 a day. Then he heard that a messenger boy was needed at the new telegraph office in Pittsburgh. He got the job and set out to be the best messenger in town.

Two years later, he must have forgotten that note—or maybe the lure of money was too strong. He kept working hard and getting richer and richer. He got into the steel business. His company was very profitable; it used the best machinery See It Now - Mammoth Steel Shears and kept wages low. Life for his workers was awful. The writer Hamlin Garland See It Now - Hamlin Garland visited a steel town and observed: "The streets were horrible; the buildings poor; the sidewalks full of holes. Everywhere the yellow mud of the streets lay kneaded into sticky masses through which groups of pale, lean men slouched in faded garments." See It Now - Carnegie Furnaces Check The Source - "Homestead and its Perilous Trades": Hamlin Garland's Impressions of a Visit to the Iron Mills

When Carnegie cut salaries at the Homestead steel mill, in Pennsylvania, the workers went on strike See It Now - Boys at the Homestead Steel Plant. Carnegie's manager, Henry Clay Frick See It Now - Henry Clay Frick, refused to talk to the strikers Check The Source - "I Will Kill Frick": Emma Goldman Recounts the Attempt to Assassinate Henry Clay Frick; instead he sent in Pinkerton detectives—men with guns. They used their guns Check The Source - "The Military Versus Labor": From THE ILLUSTRATED AMERICAN. Twenty strikers were killed See It Now - The Homestead Riot. So were four detectives Check The Source - "The Incident of the 6th of July": THE ILLUSTRATED AMERICAN's Account of the Homestead Riot. While this was going on, Andrew Carnegie was vacationing in Scotland. Had he forgotten his origins? If you saw the way he lived you would say yes. He owned a castle in Scotland and houses in America that seemed like palaces. And he justified his immense riches with ideas like these: Hear It Now - Andrew Carnegie "The millionaires are the bees that make the most honey, and contribute most to the hive even after they have gorged themselves."

But when the most successful banker in America, J. Pierpont Morgan, offered to buy Carnegie out, he finally decided to change his way of life. It was 1901, nine years after the Homestead strike, and Carnegie was sixty-six. The sale would make him one of the richest men in the world. Maybe he remembered the note he wrote at thirty-three. He sold his business interests and began a new career—giving away his money. See It Now - Carnegie Cartoon

Carnegie now said that millionaires had a duty to distribute their wealth while they were still alive Check The Source - "Wealth": An Essay by Andrew Carnegie in the NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW. Hear It Now - Andrew Carnegie "The man who dies rich dies disgraced," he said. He began by building libraries in towns all across the country—3,000 of them, costing nearly $60 million See It Now - A Carnegie Library. He gave money to colleges and schools and artists and writers. And he founded three institutes—one to promote peace, one to improve teaching, and one to try to make the world better through science. One day he asked his assistant how much he had given away. It was $324,657,399. Carnegie gasped when he heard the number. Hear It Now - Andrew Carnegie "Good heavens! Where did I ever get all that money?" he said.

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