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Andrew Carnegie is, to this day, one of the most wealthy American men to ever live. Adjusting to inflation, Carnegie’s net worth amounts to over $4.8 billion, $1 billion more than Donald Trump. Because Andrew Carnegie is most well-known for his ownership of the monopoly Carnegie Steel and his tremendous wealth, many people see Carnegie as just another big business owner who mistreated workers and manipulated the market. However, Carnegie is much more than a wealthy business owner. In fact, he started out with nothing and built himself from the ground up. An immigrant from Scotland, Andrew Carnegie, despite common misconceptions of his work, embodies the American Dream through his strong work ethic, determination to improve his knowledge, and desire to dedicate his earnings to the advancement of other’s education.
As an immigrant, Andrew Carnegie built himself up from nothing. Carnegie grew up in Dunfermline, Scotland, but as its economic and work conditions worsened, his parents decided to sell all of their belongings to finance a better life in America. Carnegie and his family chose to settle in Allegheny, Pennsylvania where Carnegie soon found a job as a bobbin boy, earning just over a dollar an hour (“Andrew Carnegie’s Story”). The next year, Carnegie found a better paying job at a telegraph company, delivering letters to the Pittsburgh theatre (“Andrew Carnegie’s Story”). Through this job, he could sometimes catch a play from the upper balcony. While Carnegie worked to provide for his family, in his spare time he would spend hours making use of the public library. He read anything he could, subsequently making up for the education he had lost when he moved from Scotland. Carnegie’s work ethic would soon promote him to operator at the telegraph company. As his skills improved, Carnegie pursued a job at the Pennsylvania railroad and, within a year, was promoted to superintendent (“Andrew Carnegie’s Story”). In just eleven years, Carnegie had made himself superintendent of one of the fastest growing industries in the Industrial Revolution. With nothing but a middle school education, Carnegie acquired skills and knowledge as he moved up in job status and continued to gain knowledge at the public library. The American Dream embodies not only seizing opportunity, but working hard to build a more desirable life, and Carnegie did just that.
Though Carnegie’s triumph over the challenges he faced as an immigrant is an admirable success of its own, Carnegie’s biggest opportunity was yet to come. Working on the Pennsylvania Railroad exposed Carnegie to many industries and, as a result, he began investing in several areas, especially the oil industry. He made purchases wisely and gained a large profit from these investments (“Andrew Carnegie’s Story”). He soon left the railroad to begin what would become one of the biggest businesses of the 19th century. In 1870, Carnegie co-founded a steel company in Pittsburgh. By 1892, this company would become Carnegie Steel, a multi-million-dollar company, and one of the top industries of the time, along with Rockefeller Standard Oil. By the 1900’s Carnegie Steel would produce the vast majority of the United States Steel, as well as produce more than British Steel companies combined (448). Only as a result of Carnegie’s persistence to seize the opportunities America presented could Carnegie Steel come to life. He did not let the challenges he faced by being uneducated or underpaid determine his potential and ended up owning one of the most profitable businesses of his time.
In 1901, at 66 years of age, Carnegie sold his steel company to John Pierpont Morgan for $480 million dollars, officially making Carnegie the richest man in the world at that time. What many fail to see is the fact that Carnegie was dedicated to allocating the money he earned towards something bigger than himself before his death. In his words, “The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced” (Lapham). Carnegie’s belief that young men just like him should be able to access books for free drove him to found and fund 2,509 libraries. In all, Carnegie spent about $55 million to build and finance libraries alone. The rest of his money would go to “promote education and international peace” in the U.S. and Britain. Through donating so much of his earnings back to others, Carnegie gave young men and women just like him the opportunity to live out the American Dream for themselves.
Misconceptions often lead people to think Carnegie was just another big business owner, with only an eye for money. In 1892, workers spoke out against hard working conditions with the Homestead Strike. Carnegie did support labor unions, but the fact that his own factory’s working conditions caused such an outbreak fueled an immense amount of distrust towards him and his work. To put an end to the Homestead Act, Carnegie called for wage cuts and secretly enlisted the government’s help to get rid of the rioters (“The 1892 Battle of Homestead”). However, Carnegie was gone on a vacation to Scotland and was not there to witness the riots ending in bloodshed. This stained Carnegie’s reputation even further. Carnegie undoubtedly made a mistake in treating his workers the way he did, but this mistake does not change his story. Carnegie built a successful monopoly from the ground up “partly through intimidation and other unsavory tactics, but also through impressive business acumen strategy” to basically set and keep prices low for his industry (Henry and Drajem). A self-taught mastermind of the decade, Carnegie still embodies the spirit of the American Dream.
Carnegie was much more than the big business history books portray. He stands as an emblem of the American Dream and is proof that there really is an opportunity for everyone, even a Scottish immigrant, to pursue a better life, a life that they have always dreamed of. Carnegie’s will to educate himself and climb the social ladder one step at a time.
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