Heroes of Progress in America - Charles Morris

Andrew Carnegie,
and the New Gospel Of Wealth

This work is not designed as a record of the careers of men whose chief claim to distinction has been the accumulation of large sums of money. Astor and Girard have been spoken of as pioneers in this field, and the latter especially for the praiseworthy use made by him of his wealth. But in these later days of enterprise and the development of the natural resources of this country the opportunities for money making have greatly increased, and many have far surpassed these pioneers in the gathering of wealth. Some among these have died and left part or all of their money to found useful institutions, but of these examples of public service without self-sacrifice Astor and Girard must suffice. In our day there are some who are doing far better than this, giving their money while living, and it seems only just to tell the story of one of these. We select for our example Andrew Carnegie, the Pittsburg multimillionaire and free-handed giver of good gifts, a man who has converted benevolence into a business. We may here fitly quote an old writer who quaintly said: "To amass money and to make no use of it is as senseless as to hunt game and not roast it." If he had said "good use of it "he would have bettered his saying. .Carnegie has put the idea into better shape in his new "Gospel of Wealth "motto: "A man who dies rich dies disgraced."

Andrew Carnegie is of Scotch birth, having been born in Dunfermline, Scotland, November 25, 1837. In 1848 his father, unable longer to get work in Scotland, emigrated to America. He brought with him a sturdy republican in his young son, whose mind had been filled with democratic ideas by his uncle and father, both of them reform orators. The stories of Scotch history and English tyranny had been deeply impressed upon his mind, and filled him with hatred of tyrants and love of liberty. We may find the results of his early training in his notable book published forty years afterwards, "Triumphant Democracy."

Father, mother, and the two boys, Andy and Tom, duly reached their future home in Pittsburg, where Mr. Carnegie got work in a cotton factory, and where Andy, when twelve years old, began his business career as a bobbin-boy at the wages of a dollar and twenty cents a week. It was a modest beginning for one who was in time to become the owner of hundreds of millions of dollars. There have been several marvellous examples of money-making in our day, but that of the bobbin-boy of Pittsburg is one of the most extraordinary of them all.

We do not propose to give in full detail the story of Andrew Carnegie's progress to fortune. It is a tale that might be repeated in different words in the career of many living Americans, and may be dealt with somewhat briefly here. It is remarkable only in the vast wealth he accumulated, but the narration of enterprise and alertness in taking advantage of business opportunities has nothing in it new. There are many who have the abilities necessary to become very rich. There are few who have the opportunity to use these abilities. Carnegie was one of these few favorites of fortune.

Changes soon came in the boy's career. At thirteen he was put at the hard work of firing for the boiler of a factory engine. At fourteen he was given a much easier position as telegraph-boy, with three dollars a week salary. His escape from the stoker's den to life in the open air was to the boy like an escape from purgatory to paradise. His leisure moments were given to practicing with the telegraph, in which he learned to take by sound instead of by tape, as was then much the custom.

The boy was apt and quick, and made such progress that at sixteen he was installed as an operator at a salary of three hundred dollars a year. It came in good time, for his father had died and he had to bear much of the weight of the family support. Thomas A. Scott, then superintendent of the Pittsburg Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, gave him his next lift. Attracted by the alert intelligence of the young operator, he offered him a position as railroad telegrapher at ten dollars a month advance, and soon after gave him an opening to make an excellent investment in shares of the Adams Express Company. The offer was a good one, but the boy had no money. His mother, however, had a business head. She saw its advantages, and mortgaged her house to raise the four hundred dollars needed. She thus gave the boy his first step as a capitalist on a small scale.

When the Civil War broke out Carnegie was in his twenty-fourth year and had become private secretary and right hand man of Mr. Scott, who was appointed in 1861 Assistant Secretary of War, with charge of the important work of keeping the railroads steadily active. Promptness in the moving of trains, instant attention to stoppages and break-downs, etc., were highly necessary, and it needed a clear head and sound nerves to handle the military traffic and movements of troops. This was a heavy strain on Scott and Carnegie alike, and he was glad enough when his chief gave it up and returned to Pittsburg on the 1st of June, 1862.

There was one great opportunity in Carnegie's career of success that must be mentioned. Splendid opportunities carne to him for profitable investments, and he was quick to take advantage of them, though never lacking in caution and judgment. His second investment arose from a gentleman on a railroad train showing him a model of a sleeping car he had invented. Carnegie was quick to see its value and to push it into notice, he taking an interest in the company, which in time gained a profitable business. Shortly afterwards he was advanced to the position which Mr. Scott had formerly held, that of superintendent of the Pittsburg Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

So far he had only been getting his foot firmly fixed on the highway of life, but now came the opening for an immense boom in his fortunes, far beyond his dreams. The coal oil business was then in its early days of activity, new fields were being rapidly opened, and Carnegie joined some friends in the purchase for forty thousand dollars of the Storey Farm, a piece of promising ground on Oil Creek. The well on it, then running one hundred barrels daily, proved in the end to be immensely valuable, gaining a value on the Stock Exchange of $5,000,000, and paying in one year the surprising dividend of $i,000,000—certainly a splendid return for a $40,000 investment.

Andrew Carnegie, now twenty-seven years old, was thus suddenly made a capitalist. He might have preceded Rockefeller as a great oil magnate but that his energies were turned in another direction. The wooden bridges then in use on railroads were for various reasons very unsatisfactory, and the Pennsylvania Railroad had just made a successful experiment with iron. This set its Pittsburg superintendent to thinking. There was going to be a business, very likely a large business, in iron bridges, and the first in the field would have the best chance. He decided to be one of the first, organized a company, and started the Keystone Bridge Works.

A big order soon came, to build an iron bridge over the Ohio River, with a three hundred foot span. Others followed rapidly, and the Keystone Company soon had to extend its works. Thus our shrewd Scotchman launched himself into what became a great business, and laid the foundation of what is to-day one of the finest iron and steel works in the world. Carnegie, inspired by the success of his first venture in the field of manufacture, now resigned his railroad position and devoted all his time and attention to the business he had given so timely a start.

The Keystone Company made very rapid progress. Orders came from all sides, and Carnegie, as its manager, kept it fully up to date in all particulars. The newest time and labor saving machinery was always put in, every promising invention was taken advantage of, and a far-seeing enterprise was visible in all its affairs.

But this establishment was far from exhausting all of Carnegie's energies. Another great opportunity came to him, and he was quick to grasp it. He made a visit to England in 1868, just at the time the Bessemer steel process had passed from the stage of experiment to that of success. He saw its vast prospective value at a glance. Steel had then in many directions, especially in rails, begun to replace iron. He himself had, while in the Pennsylvania Railroad service, made a very successful experiment in the hardening of iron rails by carbon. But the rails made from Bessemer steel were far superior to these, and he determined at once to take advantage of the new process. On his return to Pittsburg he set promptly to work in the erection of a great Bessemer steel plant. As he had been among the first in America to see that iron was about to replace wood in bridges, so he was one of the earliest to realize that steel was soon to take the place of iron. It was by his foresight in these two particulars that he laid the foundation of his enormous fortune.

We have here described the initial steps of Mr. Carnegie's progress to fortune, from the position of bobbin-boy to that of the chief proprietor of great industrial works. He might have stopped at this point. His fortune was large, his needs were small, he had abundance to live on in comfort or in luxury if he desired. But men who are on the highroad of prosperity do not stop. Ambition, more than actual desire for larger wealth, carries them on. They like to excel, to stand at the top, the admired of the world, and Andrew Carnegie was not free from this ambition. Great designs awakened in his mind and he hastened to put them into execution.

He felt that a great steel plant should take advantage of all available resources. It should own its own iron and coal fields and its own railways and steamships, so as to put itself fairly beyond competition. In pursuance of this scheme he built the great plant known as the Edgar Thompson Steel Works, on the Monongahela River; bought vast tracts of mineral land, much of it on the Great Lakes, hundreds of miles away; purchased a fleet of steamships to carry the ore from the mines across the lakes, and built a railroad four hundred and twenty-five miles long to carry coal and iron directly to his works.

The results of this enterprise are well known. The cheap steel rails turned out created an immense demand. The great works were swamped with orders. Their manager could not wait to build new ones, but purchased the plant of the neighboring Homestead Steel Company, whose immense foundries were dose to his own works. He had reduced the cost of production to the lowest possible point. No concern in existence could compete with him in price. The home trade for steel was in his hands, and he stretched out to grasp the trade of the world. A genius in practical affairs, he kept this enormous business under his own control, and the millions of his wealth grew until they became overwhelmingly large.

We must stop here. We cannot follow the steps of progress of the titanic plant which rapidly grew up. It must suffice to say that by 1900 it included ten different concerns, three of them of enormous size, with a total of 45,000 employees. We must step forward to the early years of the twentieth century, when a Steel Trust with enormous capital was formed, its purpose being to control all the important works in the country. First of all stood the vast Carnegie plant. The "steel master "was ready to sell. He had always resolved to retire before old age came upon him. He could and did make his own terms, being given for his interest the enormous sum of $250,000,000 in bonds on the properties of the United States Steel Corporation, bearing interest at the rate of five per cent.

Mr. Carnegie had spent more than sixty years of his life in getting. Now began his era of giving. His views in regard to the use of money he has himself tersely expressed: "The day is not far distant when the man who dies, leaving behind him millions of available wealth which was free for him to administer during life, will pass away unwept, unhonored, and unsung, no matter to what use he leaves the dross which he cannot take with him. Of such as these the public verdict will be: 'The man who dies this rich dies disgraced.'"

How to give for the best good of mankind was the problem before him. He strongly opposed indiscriminate charity, as likely to do far more harm than good, saying, "It were better for mankind that the millions of the rich were thrown into the sea than so spent as to encourage the slothful, the drunken, the unworthy." It was his fixed idea that men should be helped to help themselves, and this has been his view in all his giving.

In this he followed what many look upon as a mistaken method, believing that to establish libraries and thus get men into the habit of reading, at once keeping them from more harmful enjoyments and cultivating their minds, was the best way in which he could distribute his money. Perhaps a difficulty of getting books in his younger days may have inspired him to this. Certainly most of his gifts have been in this direction, and he has made himself a power in the work of advancing the education and adding to the knowledge of the world.

Let us briefly state the results of his gifts during the past five years. The libraries founded by him in the United States number nearly eight hundred, and those abroad more than five hundred, their total cost being about $40,000,000. The splendid Carnegie Institute founded by him at Pittsburg consumed $7,000,000, the Polytechnic Institute $2,000,000, and the pension fund for steel works workingmen $4,000,000. Scotland, his native land, has been remembered with $15,000,000 for the benefit of its university students, and Dunfermline, his birth-place, with $2,500,000. More recently he has branched out into new fields of beneficence, establishing a fund of $5,000,000 for the benefit of those who perform deeds of heroism, $io,000,000 to pension off superannuated college professors, and $io,000,000 to establish a National University at Washington, its purpose being to encourage discovery by aiding those engaged in original researches. These are his greatest gifts. There are many smaller ones. The total is estimated at considerably over $100,000,000.

This is what Andrew Carnegie had done up to i906 to avoid the disgrace of dying rich. It will be seen that he kept firmly to his theory of not helping directly those able to help themselves, and did nothing to help those unable to help themselves, except in the way of pensions. But he was hale and hearty yet, his ideas seemed spreading, his wealth remained enormous; no one could say what views he might take as to its ultimate disposal. Whatever else may be said of Andrew Carnegie, he must be given the honor of being a pioneer in establishing the theory that it is the duty of every rich man to use his wealth while living for the benefit of mankind. At the present day there are many following his example, doubtless largely inspired by his action, and the time may come when no very rich man will permit himself to die disgraced in this manner.

Mr. Carnegie has not confined himself to money, making and money giving. Since he left business he has enjoyed himself in a sane and moderate way. He has purchased a castle and an estate in Scotland, where much of his time is spent, and where he keeps wide awake to all the events of the world. He has always been an able thinker and a ready writer, having an incisive and picturesque way of expressing himself and taking broad views of political and other affairs.

He has long been addicted to literary pursuits, and has written a number of interesting books. One of these, "Round the World," contained a lively description of a journey westward around the seas and continents. "Our Coaching Trip," issued in 1882, was a rambling and agreeable story of a drive through England and Scotland. "Triumphant Democracy," already spoken of, shows him to have become a true American in grain, however he may prefer to dwell in his native land. Finally we may name the "Gospel of Wealth," in which he lays bare his, sentiments about many of the economic problems of the day.

Here we have Mr. Carnegie. He is still with us and may long remain. And he still holds in hand much the greater part of that vast store of wealth with which he has set out to do all the good he can, in consonance with his own ideas of doing good. The world has benefited much from his beneficence; it is likely to benefit much more. He will win a crown of honor if he succeeds in establishing as a worthy rule his theory that "he who dies rich dies disgraced."