The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie


By Andrew Carnegie

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Andrew Carnegie, the great steel-baron-turned-philanthropist, was an industrialist unlike any other. His famous dictum, that he who dies rich dies disgraced, has inspired a generation of twenty-first-century philanthropists to follow in his footsteps and put their money towards philanthropic causes. He had an unwavering belief in distributing wealth for good, and systematically and deliberately gave away the bulk of his riches throughout his lifetime.

Born in 1835, he emigrated with his family to the United States from Scotland at a young age. His first job was in a cotton factory, and he later worked as an errand boy. The industrial age brought great opportunities for Mr. Carnegie. With drive and hard work, he amassed a fortune as a steel tycoon, and by adulthood the errand boy was one of the richest and most generous men in the United States. A strong dedication to giving back guided him throughout his life and career. During his own lifetime, he put his ideas into action by creating a family of organizations that continue to work toward improving the human condition, advancing international peace, strengthening democracy, and creating social progress that benefits men, women and children both in the United States and around the globe.

Here, in the reissue of the classic autobiography that has inspired generations, is the rags-to-riches tale of the life and philosophies of one of the most celebrated industrialists and philanthropists in history. From his humble beginnings as a poor Scottish immigrant to his immense success in business, Andrew Carnegie outlines the principles that he lived by and that today serve as the pillars of modern philanthropy.


Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie begins his autobiography by telling a story about a similar work written by a friend of his, Judge Mellon of Pittsburgh, the steel town where Mr. Carnegie made his great fortune. In praising the judge for the fact that his book "contains one essential feature of value — it reveals the man... without any intention of attracting public notice, being designed only for his family," Andrew Carnegie reveals much about himself. He was what I think of as an "insider-outsider," a man at ease with his comfortable position in society but still able to regard it with the perspective of a working man, both grateful for and humbled by his own achievements. I think this dichotomy is evident when one examines the many photos that exist of a smiling, jovial Andrew Carnegie, who seems to be enjoying the limelight that shone upon him as one of the richest men in the world but was also thoughtful enough not to fool himself about how he had attained his station in life. He had earned his wealth and position by hard work and though he ended his life surrounded by the trappings of a rich gentleman, he never forgot his hardscrabble beginnings. One of the great delights of reading this autobiography is to enjoy, along with Andrew Carnegie, what he calls the "whirligig of time" and events that made up his remarkable journey from living in poverty to more or less inventing the modern field of philanthropy.
That is not to say there weren't great disappointments in his life, because there were. As his wife, Louise, notes in her introduction to this volume, "His heart was broken" by the onset of World War I. That conflict dashed his hopes and personal efforts to advance the cause of international peace. Still, Louise tells us, Andrew Carnegie remained, "Always patient, considerate, cheerful, grateful for any little pleasure or service, never thinking of himself, but always of the dawning of the better day, his spirit ever shone brighter and brighter until 'he was not, for God took him.'"
It is very touching to read her introduction to her husband's autobiography, which was first published posthumously in 1920. This is one of the few instances I know of in which a wife has written the introduction to her spouse's autobiography. But then, Louise was a remarkable woman who not only loved but supported her husband in all his endeavors, including his philanthropy. We know this because Louise Whitfield, soon to be Mrs. Carnegie, signed an unusual and endearing prenuptial agreement in which the steel magnate and his intended bride declared their intentions to devote the bulk of his wealth to the public good, precluding any future arguments about the disposition of what amounted to a great fortune. The document was signed on April 22, 1887, the same day that the Carnegies were married. Among the statements it includes is this unmistakable declaration: "Andrew Carnegie desires and intends to devote the bulk purposes and said Louise Whitfield sympathizes and agrees with him in said desire..."
Loving portraits of Louise Carnegie and Margaret Carnegie (later Margaret Carnegie Miller), the Carnegies' only child, are included in this volume. Other photographs show the happy family at one of Mr. and Mrs. Carnegie's favorite places in the world, their Skibo Castle home in Scotland. As I noted earlier, there are many additional photographs of Mr. Carnegie that show him as a happy husband, doting father, joyous benefactor, even a contented golfer and proud owner of a fine looking collie. Contrast those images with some of the dour countenances of his contemporaries whose photos are also found in this book and it is difficult not to conclude that here was a man who knew he had lived an unexpectedly rewarding life but didn't want to make more of a fuss about it than he felt was warranted. In fact, to conclude the story Andrew Carnegie tells about Judge Mellon, it is illuminating to read Mr. Carnegie's own words. "In like manner," he writes, "I intend to tell my story, not as one posturing before the public, but as in the midst of my own people and friends, tried and true, to whom I can speak with the utmost freedom, feeling that even trifling incidents may not be wholly destitute of interest for them."
The events of Andrew Carnegie's life are hardly "destitute of interest" for any of us, but particularly those who have been involved in the work of the more than twenty-two institutions and organizations he founded in his lifetime that are dedicated to achieving goals that include advancing teaching and education, promoting international peace and ethical leadership, enriching knowledge about science and technology, preserving and sharing the cultural heritage of our nation and others, and, through the numerous Hero Funds he created in the U.S. and abroad, recognizing what is extraordinary in "everyday" men and women. The work of these groups continues today, though one can imagine that even these entities could hardly contain Andrew Carnegie's vision, which was always centered on improving the human condition. Perhaps his ideals can be best expressed in the simple yet profound mission he gave to Carnegie Corporation of New York, the philanthropic foundation he created in 1911, which was to support "the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding." Mr. Carnegie, who felt he had a moral imperative to give away his wealth, had one ultimate goal, which has been realized many, many times over — it was for the money that he'd amassed during his lifetime to be used, as he put it, "to do real and permanent good in this world." Fond of saying that he who dies rich, dies disgraced, he eventually gave away $350 million, an almost unimaginable fortune in an era when there was no income tax and hence no tax incentives for philanthropy.
He wanted his fortune to be invested in creating real, long-term impact on people's lives. Toward that end, he thought about every detail of how his goals would be accomplished and decided that one important element of the dissemination of his wealth would be for the work of the institutions he created to go on in perpetuity. In the case of Carnegie Corporation of New York, for example, he was very specific about that point. In his November 10, 1911, Letter of Gift to the Corporation, providing the first part of its endowment, he wrote (using the shortened spelling form he was fond of), "My desire is that the work which I [hav] been carrying on, or similar beneficial work, shall continue during this and future generations."
In addition, with astonishing prescience and even modesty, he understood that the pressing issues of his day might be overshadowed by other problems as times changed. Hence, he did something almost unprecedented: in essence, he told the future stewards of his wealth, men and women who would be born after he was gone, that he trusted them. With hope and optimism, he literally entrusted the future to those who would carry on his philanthropy. In the aforementioned Letter of Gift, he said, "Conditions upon the [erth] inevitably change; hence, no wise man will bind Trustees forever to certain paths, causes or institutions. I disclaim any intention of doing so. On the contrary, I [giv] my trustees full authority to change policy or causes hitherto aided, from time to time, when this, in their opinion, has become necessary or desirable. They shall best conform to my wishes by using their own judgment. . ."
Truly, he was a unique individual — and today, when the term "unique" is overused, it is important to stress how exceptional an individual Mr. Carnegie really was. In that connection, it is remarkable to think about the impact that this one person has had. Andrew Carnegie came to the United States as a poor boy, an immigrant from Scotland who first found work in a cotton mill but eventually became a great steel baron and then one of the most important philanthropists the world has ever known. In addition to the many organizations he created and personal benefactions he was responsible for, perhaps his crowning glory — and his first major, sustained philanthropic effort — was the creation of more than 2,500 public libraries in the United States and abroad. As he notes in this autobiography, "It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it, as the founding of a public library in a community which is willing to support it as a municipal institution."
As dramatic as Carnegie's story is, it is certainly not without precedent. After all, he found his footing and made his fortune in the land that had been described by Alexis de Tocqueville as the embodiment of "individualism," a term he coined in his seminal 1835 work, Democracy in America, which recounted his travels through the U.S. That was Tocqueville's way of describing the self-reliant character of Americans, who reveled in their freedom from paternalism and aristocratic rule. In Mr. Carnegie's time, the same as today, individuals with the will and the persistence to nurture and build on their ideas have shown that time and time again they can not only move the proverbial mountain but also whole societies, as well.
In that regard, the reissuance of this autobiography of Andrew Carnegie in the year that we celebrate Carnegie Corporation's Centennial has led me to reflect not only on Andrew Carnegie's impact on society but, in a general sense, on the role of the individual in history. Naturally, this has been the subject of debate and discussion throughout recorded history. Conservatives, liberals, radicals, and those all along the spectrum1 have offered their verdicts. But it should be noted that while political theorists, scholars, and leaders may diverge on many issues, what they all have in common is an acknowledgment that human will, individuality, and creativity cannot be devalued. The political philosophies of even the most autocratic governments have been first articulated and then defended by individuals. Individuals carry the banners of despots as they march in support of their regimes. But it is also individuals who raise the flag of freedom and revolt in opposition to those who would impose repressive diktats on the populace. Our founding fathers are examples of such extraordinary individuals. We all remember, for example, how boldly John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence. A committee did not put their names to that remarkable document. Individuals did.
For Americans, the concept of the individual and his or her centrality to the very nature of the social and political compacts that define our national life has been the driving issue at the heart of our society. What we often think of as "rugged individualism" is ingrained in the foundational conversation about the ideals and principles of our nation that began before the American Revolution and continues today. Nevertheless, within this context, questions arise that relate to individual rights, self-reliance, the relationship and tensions between private and public good, local autonomy and national sovereignty, states' rights and federal power, even to what extent an individual perceives himself or herself to be part of the connective tissue of a nation represented by the term "citizen." One also may find that the ambiguities inherent in honoring the rights and dignity of the individual are not only difficult to reconcile but also extraordinarily challenging. For example, Americans in particular must confront the reality that "Individualism, the first language in which [they] tend to think about their lives, values independence and self-reliance about all else... [yet] American cultural traditions define personality, achievement and the purpose of human life in ways that leave the individual suspended in glorious, but terrifying isolation."2
One thing is clear: for America's founding fathers, individual rights were paramount. Thomas Jefferson gave powerful expression to this notion, linking the ideals of the eighteenth-century European Enlightenment and the light of democracy and freedom that he helped to bring forth in stating the powerful truths about equality and unalienable rights that the Declaration of Independence proclaims as self-evident. "The equal rights of man, and the happiness of every individual," Jefferson wrote some years after American independence had been achieved, "are now acknowledged to be the only legitimate objects of government." Nearly two hundred years later, scholar Yehoshua Arieli captured the essence of Jefferson's ideas in Individualism and Nationalism in American Ideology3 when he described the foundation of American society and the democracy it cherished as the "consent of free individuals to be united together in a higher community which comprise[s] their common ideals and interests."
I believe I can say with reasonable certainty that the notion of free individuals working together toward a higher common good is one that Andrew Carnegie would have celebrated. Though he was influenced by Social Darwinism, a set of late nineteenth-century ideologies that primarily focused on "the survival of the fittest" as an organizing principle of society, he came to very different conclusions about how these ideas played out in real life. He believed that in the ranks of the disadvantaged, one might find what he called "the epoch-makers" 4 because those who triumphed over adversity had to be possessed of extraordinary will and indomitable spirit. A true idealist, he believed in the maxim that a rising tide lifts all boats, and hence, his "epoch-makers" and others like them were obligated to make every effort to advance society and improve conditions for all men, women, and children.
Andrew Carnegie, of course, was also a capitalist, and as such, he welcomed Adam Smith's arguments in favor of free market economies in The Wealth of Nations.5 But he was also aware that despite being most famously known as the father of modern capitalism, Smith was a moral philosopher. Adam Smith wrote with conviction about the importance of the connections between individual aspirations and the enlightened evolution of society. In fact, he based his economic theories upon his view of human nature, which he described in his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, published in 1759. There, he theorized that man is driven by passionate self-interests, but moderates them with his intellect and innate sympathy for others. In this book, Smith first made the statement that when people are left to follow their self-interests they are "led by an invisible hand, without knowing it, without intending it, to advance the interest of the society."
Andrew Carnegie must also have been influenced by Samuel Smiles and his book, Self Help,6 which was well known in Carnegie's day. In my estimation, this volume is a neglected classic that incisively analyzes the importance of self-reliance and self-motivation. "Even the best institutions can give a man no active help. Perhaps the most they can do is to leave him free to develop himself and improve his individual condition," wrote Smiles, who also authored profiles of self-made men. His overall theme was that life is not just a preordained journey but allows individuals to change direction along the way–sometimes knowingly, and sometimes due to circumstances. This idea — that the journey is more important than the destination — is also conveyed in a famous poem called Ithaca, by C.P. Cavafy, who wrote, "When you set out for distant Ithaca. . . fervently wish that your journey maybe long."
In all these observations, ideas, and philosophies, one finds the theme of convergence. Like strands in a great skein of time and events, even opposing ideologies oftentimes knit themselves together to create new ideas, new movements, new social orders, even new nations. Yet at the heart of this ferment is always the individual. Different governing regimes, political systems, and social orders, even those at polar opposites, must all cope with the reality that the will of human beings — their yearning to be free, to express themselves, to gain knowledge, and to use it — may be bent, but it is never bowed for very long. Time and circumstances may differ, but human creativity lives on. It cannot be obliterated from the record of civilization. It cannot be denied.
It is interesting to consider how time and events almost always converge around individuals. Perhaps this seems especially true now, when we are living in an era that has seen, and continues to see, revolutions, proto-revolutions, and all manner of political and social upheavals taking place around the world. Often, those motivated to action in these situations are individuals who become the actualization of political theory or social-cultural ideas that form the impetus for change. Many are also the epitome of Smiles' self-motivated individuals who have made education, achievement, professional success, and intellectual pursuits the hallmark of their lives. In Crane Brinton's seminal work, The Anatomy of Revolution,7 in which he analyzes four major historical revolutions — the English, American, French, and Russian — he notes this phenomenon of "a mixture of gentlemen of good breeding, of selfeducated careerists, and of humble men inspired by a fury as yet divine." Specifically, he was describing the leaders of the English revolution, but they had much in common with their rebellious counterparts on the American continent. For example, Brinton tells us that of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence, "thirty-three held college degrees in an age when few ever went to college; only about four had little or no formal education." And they had aspirations, which through their own efforts — and in the service of a great ideal — they fulfilled. As the Middlesex Journal of April 6, 1776, declaimed of the leaders of the American Revolution, "From shopkeepers, tradesmen and attorneys they are become statesmen and legislators. . ." The Journal, a British paper, meant to be condescending, but with history's hindsight, one can imagine that Jefferson and his compatriots would have been pleased by this assessment.
Having said all this, I must stress that there have always been, and will always be, countless individuals whose work and ideas have moved humanity forward but whose identities few will ever know. Still, history does sometimes converge around an individual whose name becomes synonymous with eras, events, discoveries, and social or political movements. This, I would suggest, is the case with the man I began this introduction with: Andrew Carnegie. Making his intentions clear in his dictum, "There is nothing inherently valuable in mere money... unless it is to be administered as a sacred trust for the good of others," he used his wealth in a way that profoundly affected the field of philanthropy. In fact, in the modern age, along with John D. Rockefeller, Mr. Carnegie can be viewed as one of the founders of what we now call "strategic philanthropy," meaning, grantmaking intended as an investment that will bring about lasting, long-term results. This is a great change from earlier times, when people who were economically secure were often moved to help others, but more in the line of charitable works. This brings to mind an important distinction between charity and philanthropy that has eroded over time, but should be noted because it highlights the different concerns that donors may have. Charity, which is derived from the Latin word caritas, meaning dear, has a long religious history; for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, for example, it has meant giving immediate relief to human suffering without passing judgment on those who suffer — and, it should be mentioned, usually without getting directly involved with them. Philanthropy has a more secular history and comes from the Greek word philanthropos, meaning love of mankind. The Greek meaning carried over to English and, for the longest time, philanthropy referred only to a caring disposition toward one's fellow man. Now the word is used to describe generosity that promotes human progress in any field.
Andrew Carnegie was the architect of his own giving, which he meant to endure in perpetuity. His intention was not to glorify himself or his name in future generations but for his wealth to act as a perpetual motion machine, being constantly reinvested in order to serve the ultimate purpose of doing good. To achieve that end, Andrew Carnegie had a vision that he accompanied with action. He did not speculate; he researched and acted upon his convictions and his vision of America as a vibrant democracy that needed education to become stronger, required an educated citizenry to maintain its strength and ensure its progress, and would thrive in a global community where international peace was a common value among nations.
Andrew Carnegie's philanthropy embodied his belief that while society is always going to be confronted by challenges, individuals can lead the way in meeting those challenges and in doing so, continue the work of improving the human condition that one generation passes on to the next. In that regard, I imagine he would have appreciated the question asked by Fathali M. Moghaddam in his book, The Specialized Society: The Plight of the Individual in an Age of Individualism8: "What kind of being do we humans want to become? Our most precious quality is becoming... The human being "partly is," but "wholly hopes to be."9
What Andrew Carnegie hoped to be, he became: an individual, as he wrote in this volume, "who feels there is not a human being to whom he does not wish happiness, long life, and deserved success, not one in whose path he would cast an obstacle nor to whom he would not do a service if in his power." Andrew Carnegie dedicated himself wholeheartedly to the service of his fellow men and women. His philanthropy was his gift to the future, his everlasting investment in the belief that education is our greatest tool, that peace is our most sacred goal, and that the betterment of humanity is the shared aspiration of us all.
President, Carnegie Corporation of New York

AFTER retiring from active business my husband yielded to the earnest solicitations of friends, both here and in Great Britain, and began to jot down from time to time recollections of his early days. He soon found, however, that instead of the leisure he expected, his life was more occupied with affairs than ever before, and the writing of these memoirs was reserved for his play-time in Scotland. For a few weeks each summer we retired to our little bungalow on the moors at Aultnagar to enjoy the simple life, and it was there that Mr. Carnegie did most of his writing. He delighted in going back to those early times, and as he wrote he lived them all over again. He was thus engaged in July, 1914, when the war clouds began to gather, and when the fateful news of the 4th of August reached us, we immediately left our retreat in the hills and returned to Skibo to be more in touch with the situation.
These memoirs ended at that time. Henceforth he was never able to interest himself in private affairs. Many times he made the attempt to continue writing, but found it useless. Until then he had lived the life of a man in middle life — and a young one at that — golfing, fishing, swimming each day, sometimes doing all three in one day. Optimist as he always was and tried to be, even in the face of the failure of his hopes, the world disaster was too much. His heart was broken. A severe attack of influenza followed by two serious attacks of pneumonia precipitated old age upon him.
It was said of a contemporary who passed away a few months before Mr. Carnegie that "he never could have borne the burden of old age." Perhaps the most inspiring part of Mr. Carnegie's life, to those who were privileged to know it intimately, was the way he bore his "burden of old age." Always patient, considerate, cheerful, grateful for any little pleasure or service, never thinking of himself, but always of the dawning of a better day, his spirit ever shone brighter and brighter until "he was not, for God took him."
Written with his own hand on the fly-leaf of his manuscript are these words: "It is probable that material for a small volume might be collected from these memoirs which the public would care to read, and that a private and larger volume might please my relatives and friends. Much I have written from time to time may, I think, wisely be omitted. Whoever arranges these notes should be careful not to burden the public with too much. A man with a heart as well as a head should be chosen."
Who, then, could so well fill this description as our friend Professor John C. Van Dyke? When the manuscript was shown to him, he remarked, without having read Mr. Carnegie's notation, "It would be a labor of love to prepare this for publication." Here, then, the choice was mutual, and the manner in which he has performed this "labor" proves the wisdom of the choice — a choice made and carried out in the name of a rare and beautiful friendship.
New York
April 16, 1920

THE story of a man's life, especially when it is told by the man himself, should not be interrupted by the hecklings of an editor. He should be allowed to tell the tale in his own way, and enthusiasm, even extravagance in recitation should be received as a part of the story. The quality of the man may underlie exuberance of spirit, as truth may be found in apparent exaggeration. Therefore, in preparing these chapters for publication the editor has done little more than arrange the material chronologically and sequentially so that the narrative might run on unbrokenly to the end. Some footnotes by way of explanation, some illustrations that offer sight — help to the text, have been added; but the narrative is the thing.
This is neither the time nor the place to characterize or eulogize the maker of "this strange eventful history," but perhaps it is worth while to recognize that the history really was eventful. And strange. Nothing stranger ever came out of the Arabian Nights than the story of this poor Scotch boy who came to America and step by step, through many trials and triumphs, became the great steel master, built up a colossal industry, amassed an enormous fortune, and then deliberately and systematically gave away the whole of it for the enlightenment and betterment of mankind. Not only that. He established a gospel of wealth that can be neither ignored nor forgotten, and set a pace in distribution that succeeding millionaires have followed as a precedent. In the course of his career he became a nation-builder, a leader in thought, a writer, a speaker, the friend of


On Sale
Jun 28, 2011
Page Count
416 pages