Andrew Carnegie was the pioneering tycoon of the "Age of Steel". From his companies emerged the steel to build the infrastructure (railroads, bridges, automobiles, ships ...) that would build a nation. He was a major catalyst in the transformation into the Industrial Revolution producing the steel to make machinery and transportation possible. In his philanthropic stage of life, he became the world's beneficiary to education as he is responsible for the construction and donation of thousands of libraries in the U.S., Europe and around the world.
Entrepreneurship at an early age
Andrew Carnegie was born November 25, 1835, in Dunfermline, Scotland a town that sustained itself and the Carnegie's mostly through "Damask" linen weaving. His grandfather, known as the "Professor" for his love of knowledge and history passed down a great thirst for knowledge to his son and later grandson, Andrew. As was common, Andrew was expected to become a weaver like his father and grandfather. His heroes were famous Scots such as William Wallace, and Robert Bruce. He earned his first penny (a lot of money in 1845!) from his school teacher by reciting a famous poem. As he grew, he learned numbers and helped with his father's accounts.
One story is written, the Carnegie's were so poor, they had little food to feed the rabbits (a staple meal). As a young leader and entrepreneur, Andrew enrolled his friends to help gather vegetation to help feed the rabbits and in return, Andrew would name a new-born bunny after each child that gathered food. Andrew learned early on that people are very willing to work if they feel personally involved in the outcome.
Hard times hit the Carnegie's with the advent of factory automated looms and in 1848 the family emmigrated to the U.S. Fully 3 months after leaving Scotland, they arrived virtually penniless in Pittsburgh. By age 13, Andrew worked as a "bobbin boy" in the same loom factory as his father for the sum of $1.20 per week. His following job saw him working in a dark, dim basement producing the bobbins for looms. His breakthrough came shortly thereafter when he was offered a job through his Uncle Hogan as a telegraph boy to deliver messages. He learned quickly and was the 3rd person in the country able to decipher a message simply be ear (rather than translating from the printed dots and dashes). He was promoted and received the salary of $25 per month, an astonishing amount for an uneducated 16 year old.
In February, 1853 Carnegie was recruited by Thomas Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad who had been the recipient of many telegraph messages from Carnegie for the sum of $35 per month. Two years after joining the railroad, his father passed away. Andrew had strong beliefs in art, religion, and politics. In fact, at age 20, Carnegie would publish an article against slavery in New York's Weekly Tribune.
The Carnegie Story
Carnegie would move up the ladder at the Railroad incorporating his knowledge of the telegraph, a much needed skill to prevent crashes on single track lines. During the Civil War, Carnegie rebuilt many of the telegraph and railroad lines damaged by confederate sympathizers and even worked in the offices of then President, Abraham Lincoln.
After suffering extreme exhaustion or mild stroke, he realized that people need to rest their bodies and enjoy life. After a hiatus and the end of the Civil War, Carnegie would set his sights on the Pullman "sleeper" train car company, another that would build iron bridges for railroads, and oil fields that he knew would have value as fuel. He took many risks and learned that his future lied in investing in people and ideas. He detested "speculators", people who invested as gamblers and throughout most of his life was actively involved in running the companies he invested in. Does this sound much like management issues 20th century entrepreneurs have with financiers!?
In 1865, Carnegie and a group of friends who would assist him throughout his life took off and toured the arts and life of Europe. His true genius may be the way he was able to work with others for a common vision. He was always true to his life-long core of business associates, advisors and friends. He would introduce many advances including chemical advancements such as the Bessemer Process, in areas of labor and work days, and areas of business management. One business example is now known as "cost accounting". This is accounting for costs at each stage of production making factories more efficient.
Carnegie also went through significant hard times when in 1873, a great "crash" of the nations financial system hit. He decided that the economy would come out of it if he and investors would go without pay. He sold many shares and had to buy out other investors but he was again correct and emerged wealthier than ever. Other scars such as the steel mill, Homestead riot was likely the worst labor dispute of all time including several deaths! Carnegie was in Europe at the time and left decisions up to acting executive, Henry Clay Frick. Many believe some of the violence would have been curtailed had Carnegie returned from a lengthy tour of Europe. A failing here of Carnegie's was that he always thought himself to be kind, righteous, and doing the best for employees. However, Carnegie held all the cards and didn't realize that he could not be an objective negotiator.
It is believed that Carnegie would always regret these events throughout his life. Carnegie was painfully retrospective in these matters. It was several years after his mothers death that he would even speak of her.
"Whatever I engage in I must push inordinately"
"My childhood's desire was to get to be a man and kill a king"
"Head service or hand service, it is heart service that counts"
"You must capture and keep the heart of the original and extremely able man before his brain can do its best"
"Speculation (stocks) is a parasite feeding upon values creating none"
Key thoughts for entrepreneurs
As Carnegie rose through the ranks in the railroad business, it was astonishing to realize that he was recognized not by family name or position in society, but for his contributions and achievements. The world and life itself awed Carnegie. He took chances. He bought opportunities during the good times and the hard times. Yet, in humble fashion at a dinner one evening, he held aloft a pitcher and said "Real silver!".
At one point, he applied the notion of "focus" to his business efforts. He understood back in the 1800's that it was "steel" that was the primary ingredient in his business affairs. It was the primary tool in producing Railroad tracks, telegraph wire, bridges and so on.. Entrepreneurs must focus on the "key element" that will make us successful. This focus creates a tunnel vision toward delivering 120%. ("Focus" a book by Al Ries is highly recommended).
Carnegie would very much rely on his intuition or what he called, a "flash". He would let these "flashes" guide him as we entrepreneurs trust our instincts. The propensity to buy out the skiddish and see opportunity such as land for fuel oil (well before practical use) lends itself to true genius. Genius is found in total devotion to a task. Carnegie did not marry until he was 52.
A letter written to himself, was found after his death when he was earning the princely sum of $50,000 per year. He spoke of capping his income and donating the balance. Well, that did not come to fruition until his death. On August 11, 1919, Andrew Carnegie passed away at Shadowbrook, MA. People were astonished to learn that of the $300,000,000 worth, he had given most of it away to charities around the world.
He had no tolerance for war or aggression. Robber barron or Robin Hood, industrialist orphilanthropist, Carnegie made change. He was an entrepreneurial capitalist that spawned the growth of a nation. Take a look in most cities and many small towns around the world and you will see the legacy of bridges, tall buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, libraries and education left by him. In fact, fully 78 years after his death, best-selling author Frank McCort (1997) of the book "Angela's Ashes" has stated the Limrick Carnegie Library (Ireland) was a basis for the author's education.
Books about Andrew Carnegie:
The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie by Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie by Joseph Frazier Wall
Andrew Carnegie and the Rise of Big Business by Harold C. Livesay