Ward's Book of Days.
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What happened on this day in history.
On this day in history in 1835, was born Andrew Carnegie.
Carnegie was a migrant from Dunfermline, who became a steel magnate in the United States and gave millions to charity.
Andrew Carnegie was born on 25th November 1835, at Dunfermline, the son of William Carnegie, a handloom weaver, a Chartist, and radical agitator. His maternal grandfather, Thomas Morrison, had been an acquaintance of William Cobbett. When Carnegie was a boy, the power loom arrived in Dunfermline, making thousands of weavers redundant, and consequently, in 1848, the Carnegies left for Pennsylvania, where work was available in the cotton mills.
At the age of 14, Carnegie took a job as a cotton bobbin boy in Pittsburgh, earning just over a dollar a week. He spent his Saturdays and spare time, reading at a library, instituted for the benefit of young people intent on self improvement. Here he taught himself morse-code, and at 16, was given a job as a telegraph operator for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, at a salary of 4 dollars a week. He never forgot the opportunity that he had gained from the library and vowed that at some time in the future he would repay the advantage he had been given.
While working at the railroad company, Carnegie had an inspiration which would save passengers time and money. He invented the ‘Sleeping Car’, which allowed travellers to continue their journey through the night, without stopping in a hotel. This invention earned him some capital which he was prepared to invest in new ventures.
In 1860, the American Civil War began, and suddenly there was an increased demand for industrial products, not just munitions but all types of manufactured goods to sustain the war effort. Carnegie saw the opportunity and invested in iron and steel, oilfields and railways. He also offered companies financial services in selling their securities on the London Stock Exchange, in return for a commission. He made frequent visits to Britain and took the opportunity to meet steelmakers. Foreseeing the future demand for steel, he left the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1865, to work in the steel industry, and in 1870, founded the J. Edgar Thomson Steel Works near Pittsburgh, later the Carnegie Steel Company. The new company built the first steel plants in the United States to use the new ‘Bessemer’ steelmaking process, imported from Britain. The company expanded using the corporate technique of ‘vertical integration’, that is the company bought up the mines where the iron ore and the coal were extracted, the ships that transported the iron ore, and the railroads that carried the coal to the steel mills. In 1900, Carnegie sold his stake in the corporation to a banking house for $250 million. (about £4,000 million Sterling in today’s money)
Having made himself the richest man in the world, Carnegie set about giving away his fortune. He had published several articles over the years in which he explained his outlook. In particular, his most famous text, the Gospel of Wealth, stated that a man who accumulates wealth has a duty to use his surplus wealth for ‘the improvement of mankind’. In brief, the doctrine was explained in the maxim ‘A man who dies rich dies disgraced’. Carnegie distributed his great fortune among charitable foundations, in the United States, in Britain and in the British Empire. The thrust of his benefactions went to educational institutions. He endowed the Scottish Universities, Dunfermline's educational institutions, theatres and child-welfare centres. In particular, he founded libraries, remembering that the source of his wealth sprang from the knowledge he had acquired from the generously endowed private library in Pittsburgh. Most British libraries were either built by, or developed by, funds from the Carnegie Trust.
Carnegie spent the remainder of his life in seclusion, alternating between his homes in New York, Lenox in Massachusetts and Skibo Castle in the Scottish Highlands. He died on 11th August 1919, and left what remained of his assets to charitable institutions.
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