Immense power is acquired by assuring yourself in your secret reveries that you were born to control affairs.
At the age of 13, Andrew Carnegie was a tiny little dirt-poor Scottish immigrant living in Pittsburgh working 72-hours a week and collecting a paycheck of $1.20 every Friday. Using nothing more than his own guts, brains, and ingenuity, this 5’3” tall Ayn Rand wet dream would transform himself from the kid chained to a printing press on the cover of a book about evil capitalist industrial practices and become the single richest human being on the planet earth – and then he’d donate 90% of his personal wealth (roughly $4.76 billion by today’s standards) to charities ranging from science museums to music halls. His foundations and donations would fund the creation of insulin, set up the world’s biggest retirement program for teachers and scientists, open 2500 free libraries around the planet, and create everything from the International Court of Justice in The Hague to goddamn Sesame Street. Oh, and even though he’s known as “The Father of Modern Philanthropy” he still had enough cash left over to buy a fucking Scottish castle, marry a trophy wife half his age, and rub his balls all over the industry that gave the Pittsburgh Steelers their name. Oh yeah, and he also almost single-handedly kept the friggin’ Union railroad and telegraph lines running during the Civil War.
Dude was so hardcore that Scrooge McDuck is believed to have been partly modeled after him, and not the dickhead Scrooge from that Christmas movie but the cool one who bangs Magicka De Spell and then shotguns fifths of Fireball with Launchpad McQuack.
Andrew Carnegie was born in some place called Dunfermline, Scotland in 1835. His dad was a weaver and his mom occasionally stitched up shoes for local shoemakers, but when the Industrial Revolution rolled out steam-powered looms in 1847 it made the profession of weaving even more useless. Andrew’s dad was basically replaced by the kind of robot that gets steampunk slash fic written about it, and, since there wasn’t anything else to do in Scotland, dad borrowed a bunch of cash and moved his family to Pittsburgh,.
Young Andrew didn’t really go to school or anything like that, but his dad did have the good sense to make him read badass shit written by hero Scottish killmongers like Robert the Bruce and William Wallace, so even though Andy couldn’t calculate the circumference of a circle using Pi he still understood the massive importance of crushing your enemies into fucking dust with your bare hands and then eating the dust and shitting it out and throwing that shit at your other enemies. Even though he was only thirteen years old, Carnegie went to work immediately to help support his family, getting a job changing yarn spools at a textile factory for a buck twenty a week. He busted his balls 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, and spent his insignificant amount of free time taking advantage of a free library that had been donated to the city by some rich asshole.
Andrew Carnegie, world’s first hipster, seen here at some age
Carnegie eventually took a job as a message boy in a Western Union telegraph office, and busted his ass so hard that they promoted him to telegraph operator and paid him the exorbitant sum of five bucks a week. Carnegie was so intense about his work that he memorized the tones of the telegraph beeps and could translate that shit without having to read the code, a move that impressed people so much that in 1853 Carnegie became the personal secretary of the Superintendent of the Pennsylvania Western rail line. Even though he was only 18 years old, Carnegie knew that this railroad thing was the real shit, so he convinced his mom to mortgage their house so he could invest five hundred bucks in railroad cars on the stock market.
He turned that five hundred bucks into a steady five grand a year income, which was fucking nuts in 1837. It all went bonkers from there, especially after he started putting cash into oil and steel – two things that ended up being pretty important in the 1800s and 1900s.
Well whatever, I pretty strongly distrust anyone that has more money than me (a policy that I think qualifies me as a misanthrope) , but Andrew Carnegie wasn’t just some rich asshole with a ton of money who got his rocks off by making people bark for cash. When the Civil War broke out in 1861 Carnegie’s boss was tapped to run the transportation and logistics department, and Carnegie went to work for the Union running rail and telegraph lines up and down the country to keep the Federal armies supplied and in communications. Carnegie joked that he was the first casualty of the Civil War, because a couple days before First Bull Run he got whipped in the face with a telegraph line Doc Brown style and it left a permanent scar on his face. During the war he oversaw the rebuilding of rail tracks torn up by the rebels, personally oversaw the railroad evacuation of Union troops to D.C. after First Bull Run, and did his best to maintain steel production, railroad efficiency, and communications along Federal supply lines throughout the war. This didn’t keep him from being drafted into the infantry, but Carnegie bought his way out of it because this is America and that is how things work here.
After the war, Carnegie would use his already-impressive stacks of cash to buy a massively successful steel plant, take over all his rivals, flex nuts all over the place, make it rain, and found a bridge building company that built a bridge in St. Louis that goes over the Mississippi River. In 1886 he wrote a bestselling book on why capitalism is awesome (possible subtitle: because it made me a shitload of money) and by 1892 he was ruling the biggest steel company in the world and making enough money to buy one of those islands where you’re allowed to hunt people with an elephant rifle (though I don’t think he ever actually did this, it doesn’t mention it on the Carnegie Foundation website).
By most accounts Carnegie was a good boss, and he would go above and beyond to take care of his people because he knew what it was like to have to eat Top Ramen every night of the week. However, one incident in 1892 resulted in this dude having his “World’s Greatest Boss” coffee mug revoked, and that was the infamous strike at the Homestead steel plant. Basically, Carnegie Steel made like a 60% profit one year, and the workers at the plant were pissed and went on strike because their raises only amounted to a measly 30%. They complained like a bunch of Commies but Carnegie couldn’t hear them because he was off in Scotland banging his 20-year-old trophy wife at his summer home which was a bigass fucking castle on a Scottish mountain where I think Madonna got married one of those times. Anyways, Carnegie told the Homestead plant manager to take care of this shit for him, so the plant manager called in the Pinkertons and they ended up shooting like ten guys to death. I’ll argue this is OK regardless of where you stand on the economic conservative spectrum – either Andrew Carnegie was completely removed from it all and this was the product of a psycho branch manager and some overzealous private mercenaries (understandable), or Andrew Carnegie is a badass James Bond supervillain who was good to his minions as long as they didn’t fuck with him (awesome).
Either way, Carnegie sold the plant to J.P. Morgan a few years after this ugly incident. The transaction – a $480 million purchase – was the largest single transaction in world history at the time it occurred.
Andrew Carnegie gave literally every single dollar of that money away to charities across the world.
He kept the castle though.
The list of Carnegie’s philanthropic accomplishments makes the Gates Foundation look like the Sochi Olympic Committee. He bought a huge private park in his hometown in Scotland and immediately donated it to the public so they could check it out any time they wanted. He founded 2,500 libraries in cities from Pittsburgh to Belgrade and made them completely free for everyone. He donated 7,600 organs to various churches (I assume this means pipe organs but who knows with this dude). He set up Carnegie-Mellon University as a technical school for the children of his employees, then established TIAA-CREF, a retirement fund aimed at giving hard-working teachers, researchers, and scientists something to actually look forward to. He created a huge endowment to set up an instate of World Peace in 1910, and if that makes you laugh because there were two goddamn World Wars after 1910 I should also mention that Carnegie paid for the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, where war crime trials continue to be held to this day. He established Carnegie Hall to foster music. He donated millions to Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Intitute. He put id="mce_marker"35 million towards various museums, research facilities, and educational institutions across every discipline and in every corner of the world. My personal favorite is that he set up the Carnegie Hero Fund, an awesome group that provides recognition and a little cash to everyday people who put their lives on the line to help others – everyone from firefighters to a dude who jumps off a bridge to save a drowning baby. I’ve used their site more than once to find people to write about here, which is how I got the idea to write about this guy in the first place.
Andrew Carnegie, pauper turned billionaire turned philanthropist, is believed to have donated something on the order of 90% of his personal wealth to charity before he died in 1919. Before he passed, he wrote a super popular book about how the ultra-rich have an obligation to help those in need, and it’s something that inspired other billionaires to follow his lead.