Andrew Carnegie: Biography and 10 Major Achievements

Andrew Carnegie – Biography and accomplishments

Following the rise of Andrew Carnegie’s career from a mere worker in a cotton factory in Pittsburgh, U.S., to his critical acclaim as one of the greatest steel industrialists, the article below explores the true life story and 10 major accomplishments of the Scottish-born philanthropist cum business magnate.

Continue reading to learn more about the business mind and life Andrew Carnegie.

Fast Facts: Andrew Carnegie

Born: November 25, 1835

Place of birth: Dunfermline, Scotland

Died: August 11, 1919

Aged: 83

Place of death: Shadow Brook in Lenox, Massachusetts, U.S.

Buried: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in North Tarrytown, New York, U.S.

Height: 5’3’’

Organizations established: The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Carnegie Hero Fund, Carnegie Mello University, and Carnegie Institution for Science, among others


Parents: William Carnegie and Margaret Morrison Carnegie

Wife: Louise Whitfield (married in 1887)

Daughter: Margaret Carnegie Miller

American industrialist and philanthropist made an immense amount of wealth producing steel. At the height of his business, he was considered one of the richest men in the United States. In the two decades leading to his death, he gave away about $350 million to charitable causes.

Quick biography of Andrew Carnegie

Unbeknownst to many people, Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland. He had two siblings – Thomas and Ann, with the latter dying during infancy. He was the second child of his parents – Margaret Morrison Carnegie and William Carnegie.

When he was around 13 years old, his family relocated to North America and made Allegheny City in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, their home.

Growing up in Scotland, Andrew Carnegie attended the Free School in Dunfermline, Scotland. Interestingly, the school was founded by Adam Rolland of Gask, the famous Scottish philanthropist and judge and co-founder of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

After moving to the United States, he discontinued his formal education. This means that he had just a few years of formal schooling in Scotland.

His family took a loan from his maternal uncle George Lauder, Sr. in order to pay for their travel cost to the United States.

In the U.S., Carnegie and his family settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. He and his father both secured jobs at a cotton factory. The teenage Andrew Carnegie worked as a bobbin boy. His grass-to-grace story began with him earning not more than $1.50 a week.

About thirteen years after arriving from Scotland, Andrew Carnegie was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Civil War (1861-1865). Instead of serving, Carnegie paid close to $900 to have someone serve in his place. Bear in mind, such a practice was quite common at the time.

Prior to the Civil War, Carnegie worked different jobs in order to eke out a living. He once worked as messenger for a telegraph office (the Ohio Telegraph Company) in Pittsburgh. Steadily he rose to become a secretary and then a telegraph operator.

Andrew Carnegie truly applied himself while working in the telegraph office as he was able to build many contacts with very important businessmen, especially those in the railroad sector.

He was always an avid reader, benefiting a lot from the personal library of Colonel James Anderson. His love for reading was one of the reasons why he excelled in his many exploits.

Inspired by the kind gesture of Colonel Anderson, Carnegie vowed to build as many libraries in future. His goal was to give poor young boys the chance to develop their intellectual capacities, just as he had done when he was young.

He did not marry until his mother died in 1886. He married Louise Whitfield who was 21 years his junior in 1887. Together with Louise he had one child – a daughter, Margaret, born in 1897.

Andrew Carnegie died on August 11, 1919, aged  83. He is said to have died of bronchial pneumonia at his home in Shadow Brook in Lenox, Massachusetts.

He was buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York.

Did you know: Andrew Carnegie dropped out of school at a very young age?

The people that influenced Andrew Carnegie

It’s been said that his maternal uncle, George Launder Sr., had a profound influence on his early life. Launder was the one who introduced him to the works of Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns.

Some of Andrew Carnegie’s childhood heroes were Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace, Scottish folk hero Robert Roy MacGregor, and Robert the Bruce (Robert I).

Carnegie is said to have been inspired by the ideas and philosophy of Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), an English philosopher and biologist. Although Spencerian evolution and some of Spencer’s ideas were inconsistent with Carnegie’s philosophy in life, Carnegie still claimed that he took quite a lot of inspiration from Spencer.

English philosopher Herbert Spencer, a major influence on Andrew Carnegie, supported the survival of the fittest philosophy, where he was against any attempt to help the weak and downtrodden in society. Spencer called such moves a disservice to nature and evolution.

The renowned philanthropist and business magnate began his career as worker in a Pittsburgh cotton factory

Major Achievements of Andrew Carnegie

World History Edu presents 10 major accomplishments of Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

Excelled in almost every position that he held

After distinguishing himself very well in the telegraph office, he took up a job offer (from railroad executive and American businessman Thomas Alexander Scott) for the position of telegraph operator at the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

With huge amounts of dedication, hard work, and perseverance, Carnegie was able to prove himself time and time again. By his mid-20s, he had risen to superintendent at the Western Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

Andrew Carnegie

With a lot of hard work and determination, Carnegie rose to become the division superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in the late 1850s. Image: Carnegie, c. 1878

Carnegie made tremendous amount of investments in coal, iron, and oil companies

Many of the business management tools he used to such great efficiency in his later life were forged while working at the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. With the help of his mentor Thomas A. Scott, Andrew Carnegie took to making investments in a number of companies, mostly in iron and oil industries. For example, a significant amount of fortune as an investor in the Columbia Oil Company in Pennsylvania.

By the late 1850s, Carnegie had begun buying shares in companies that produced railroad sleeping cars. From there, he moved to investing in different areas of the railroad industry.

Manufacturer of railroad sleeping cars

Owing to his strong business relationship with the likes of American inventor Theodore Tuttle Woodruff and engineer/industrialist John Edgar Thomson, Carnegie was able to venture into the manufacturing side of the railroad industry. He had amassed adequate amount of capital to start a company that manufactured rails and parts used in making bridges.

Just a few months before the American Civil War, Andrew Carnegie pulled off a very lucrative and viable merger between his company and the companies of his two associates – George Pullman and Theodore Tuttle Woodruff. The new company became leading producers of railroad sleeping cars.

Served as the Superintendent of the Military Railways of the Union Government in Washington D.C.

At the onset of the American Civil War (1861-1865), Carnegie’s association with Thomas A. Scott, the then-Assistant Secretary of War, allowed him to serve as a top ranking official in charge of the Union’s railways and telegraph. His efforts led to the re-establishment of rail lines to the nation’s capital that had been crippled by rebels loyal to the South.

In the summer of 1861, his expertise in the industry came very handy when he helped transport injured Union soldiers following the loss at Bull Run (i.e. the first major battle of the American Civil War).

His works during the Civil War immensely contributed to easier communication and transportation that in turn was crucial in securing victory for the Union Army.

Factors that led to the US-Mexico war in 1846

Established the Keystone Bridge Company

His investments in iron and coal industries were buoyed on by the tremendous growth of the railroad industry following the end of the Civil War. With his company Keystone Bridge Works in Pittsburgh, he started carving a reputation as a renowned producer in the ironworks trade.

His departure from the Pennsylvania Railroad Company allowed him to concentrate his efforts in his new company. Regardless, he was still able to strike very profitable deals with his former employers.

Andrew Carnegie built a formidable steel empire

Carnegie was a prolific investor in a number of ventures in the iron and oil industries. By his early 30s he had amassed a significant amount of wealth. He went on to become a colossal player in the industry in about two decades or so. | Image: Carnegie as he appears in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Andrew Carnegie’s biggest splash in American industry came in his activities in the steel manufacturing. The industrialist is revered as the greatest steel industrialist in America’s history.

His entry into the steel industry came in the 1870s when he co-founded a steel company near Pittsburgh. About two decades later, his deployment of sound management tools had allowed him to not only increase his business profits but also efficiency across the board in the industry. He attained this by improving upon the Bessemer process, a process in steel manufacturing that reduced the high carbon content of pig iron.

Made the Carnegie Steel Company the largest manufacturer of pig iron and steel rails

Carnegie was the owner of many factories, having a controlling stake across the supply chain. He was able to produce at a very cheap, which in turn translated into the reduction of prices of steel. The biggest beneficiary of his improved steel manufacturing technique and the vertical integration of his supply chain was the railroad industry.

With distribution and transportation sorted out, Carnegie was able to produce a whopping 2,000 tons of pig iron daily. The 1880s also witnessed Carnegie acquire his rival Homestead Steel Works.

By the last decade of the 19th century, the Carnegie Steel Company (established in 1892) was the undisputed king in the steel industry. His empire included companies like the Lucy Furnaces, the Union Mill, the Keystone Bridge Works, and the J. Edgar Thomson Steel Works, among others.

Sold his company for more than a quarter of a billion dollars in 1901

Fueled by his desire to give back to the society, Carnegie retired from business in his mid-60s. But first he reorganized his business holdings, turning them into joint stock corporations.

In 1901, the very successful and efficient Carnegie Steel was then sold to famous American banker John Pierpont Morgan for $303 million.

With the sale of Carnegie Steel, Andrew Carnegie became one of the richest men in the world at the time. He pegged up there with the likes of John D. Rockeffeller of Standard Oil.

The banker J.P. Morgan then merged Carnegie Steel with other steel businesses to create the world’s first billion-dollar corporation.

In 1901, Andrew Carnegie sold his steel empire – Carnegie Steel – to legendary banker JP Morgan for hundreds of millions of Dollars. Image: J. P. Morgan in his earlier years

Andrew Carnegie advocated world peace and collective prosperity

The steel magnate Andrew Carnegie consistently expressed his distaste for American imperialism and British colonialism. For example, following the Spanish-American War, he opposed the U.S. acquisition of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and Cuba.

He was noted for committing a lot of effort and resources into promoting democracy and ending colonization in the West Indies and Asia.

Following the U.S. acquisition of the Philippines from for $20 million, Andrew Carnegie offered to pay the United States $20 million for the freedom of Filipino people in 1898.

He was against military intervention in other countries

Urged then U.S. president William McKinley to remove American troops from the Asian country

A big advocate of international peace, Andrew Carnegie was against U.S. military intervention in other countries. To support his international peace efforts, he donated heavily to the International Court of Arbitration’s Peace Palace in The Hague. He also established the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 1910 with $10 million endowment.

In 1914, he collaborated with a number of leaders from the religious, academic and political communities to establish the Church Peace Union (CPU), a nonprofit organization dedication to promoting international peace. Today, the organization is known as the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

Disappointed over the outbreak of World War I, Carnegie would most likely be smiling in his grave knowing that his ideas served as some bit of inspiration for the formation of the League of Nations.

Andrew Carnegie Quotes

Andrew Carnegie quotes

More interesting facts about Andrew Carnegie

A US Postage stamp commemorating Andrew Carnegie as an industrialist, philanthropist, and founder of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1960

  • Andrew Carnegie was a big admirer of laissez-faire economic policies of governments. It’s been said that he believed less government intervention and regulations promoted the greater good of the society.
  • He disliked unions. According to him, the unions prevented prices from falling because they agitate for high wages which in turn increases the cost.
  • Carnegie is said to have been inspired by John Bright (1811-1889), a British liberal statesman and orator who was an avid  promoter of free trade.
  • His pursuits in the intellectual fields, especially literature, resulted in him becoming friends with famous writers and poets of the era, including American humorist and novelist Mark Twain and English Poet Mathew Arnold. Carnegie and English philosopher Herbert Spencer were also friends.
  • Andrew Carnegie also developed the acquaintances of many leading politicians in Washington D.C., including U.S. presidents and Congressmen. He was also friends with British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone.
  • Andrew Carnegie joined the American Anti-Imperialist League in 1898. The organization also included Mark Twain and two former U.S. Presidents Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland. Carnegie served as the Vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League.

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