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Andrew Carnegie: Steel, Net Worth & Philanthropy

Instructor: Deanna Reid

Deanna has taught at the elementary and middle school level and has a Master's degree in Elementary Education K-8.

Andrew Carnegie was the owner of a steel monopoly that helped him to acquire a massive fortune, making him one of the richest men in the world. Just how much wealth did he accumulate? How did he use his wealth to fulfill his philanthropic duties?

Andrew Carnegie: King of Steel

Andrew Carnegie was a poor Scottish immigrant who worked his way up from a textile factory worker as a small boy to a steel tycoon. After a successful railroad career, Carnegie used his profits to invest in various companies including newspapers and oil wells. One of these investments was the purchase of an iron mill in 1864. He used the revenue from the iron mill to create Union Mills, a conglomerate of iron mills that were extremely prosperous.

Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie

When steel was introduced as the newest building material, Carnegie began constructing a colossal steel plant, the likes of which had never been seen before in America. As he continued to purchase and open steel mills, the Carnegie Steel Company was formed and flourished. However, his time as a well-admired, but shrewd, businessman would soon go through an event that would forever tarnish Carnegie's reputation.

One of the steel plants that Carnegie owned was located in Homestead, Pennsylvania. There was a strong union presence both in the steel mill and in the community. Carnegie had spoken for many years that he agreed with the right for workers to unionize and be treated fairly. However, when the workers at the Homestead Plant were being forced to accept low wages and went on strike, Carnegie was in Scotland and had left his plant manager, Henry Frick, in complete charge. Frick locked out the striking employees and hired armed Pinkerton guards to protect the facilities. When the guards arrived, they exchanged gunfire, and the fighting would leave nine striking plant workers and three Pinkerton guards dead. Although Carnegie was not directly involved in the tragic events, many blamed him, and he spent the rest of his life mourning this sad occasion.

Homestead Strike
Homestead Strike

The Carnegie Fortune

Just how wealthy was Andrew Carnegie? In 1901, he sold his steel business to J.P. Morgan for 480 million. That is equivalent to about 15 billion in today's economy. The profits from this sale made him one of the world's wealthiest men. By the time his life was over, he had given away 380 million dollars of his profits from the sale of his steel mills in philanthropic endeavors.

From Industry to Philanthropy

After completing the sale of his industries, Andrew Carnegie decided to focus the rest of his life on philanthropy, or helping individuals or social causes. He thought that it was the duty of the wealthy to use their fortune to help others in need. He believed in the power and necessity of having public libraries available to everyone and provided the funding to establish over 2,500 libraries around the world, including fifty-six in Pennsylvania alone. He also founded the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, which later evolved into Carnegie Mellon University. Other major endowments were made to fund museums, schools, education, and peace-keeping organizations.

Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University

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