Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie was born on 25 November 1835 in Dunfermline, Scotland.His father William Carnegie was a handloom weaver, for whom the arrival of the power loom and the general economic crisis in the 1840s meant impoverization to such an extent, that in 1848 he decided to emigrate to the United States. The Carnegie family settled in a Scottish community in Allegheny, now part of Pittsburg, PA.

Growing up in the United States
Andrew began work at age 12 in a cotton factory. He quickly became enthusiastically Americanized, educating himself by reading and writing and attending night school. At the age of 14 he became a messenger in a telegraph office, where he caught the notice of Thomas Scott, a superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, who made him his private secretary and personal telegrapher in 1853. Carnegie's subsequent rise was rapid, and in 1859 he succeeded Scott as superintendent of the railroad's Pittsburgh division. While in this post he invested in the Woodruff Sleeping Car Company and introduced the first successful sleeping car on American railroads. He had meanwhile begun making investments in industrial concerns such as theKeystone Bridge Company, the Superior Rail Mill and Blast Furnaces, the Union Iron Mills, and the Pittsburgh Locomotive Works. He also profitably invested in a Pennsylvania oilfield and he took several trips to Europe, selling railroad securities. By the age of 30 he had an annual income of $50,000 (now, c. $1.1 million).

During his trips to Britain Carnegie met several steelmakers. Foreseeing the future demand for iron and steel, Carnegie left the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1865 and started managing the Keystone Bridge Company. From about 1872-1873, at about age 38, he began concentrating on steel, founding the J. Edgar Thomson Steel Works near Pittsburgh. In the 1870s Carnegie's new company introduced many profitable technological innovations to steelmaking.

Elbert Hubbard, Andrew Carnegie: East Aurora (1909)
Burton J. Hendrick, The life of Andrew Carnegie (1932)
J. Frazier Wall, Andrew Carnegie (1970)
From hagiography to biography. From left to right: Elbert Hubbard, Andrew Carnegie: East Aurora (1909), Burton J. Hendrick, The life of Andrew Carnegie (1932), J. Frazier Wall, Andrew Carnegie (1970).

In 1889 Carnegie's vast holdings were consolidated into the Carnegie Steel Company, a limited partnership that henceforth dominated the American steel industry. In 1890 the American steel industry's output surpassed that of Great Britain's for the first time, largely owing to Carnegie's successes. The Carnegie Steel Company continued to prosper even during the depression of 1892, which was marked by the bloody Homestead strike.

Wealth and generosity Carnegie sold his company to J.P. Morgan's newly formed United States Steel Corporation for $ 250 million in 1901 (now, c. $ 5 billion). He subsequently retired and devoted himself to his philanthropic activities. Just why he turned to philantropy may be learned from his essay entitled 'The Gospel of Wealth', which he published in 1889.

Though of widely diverging character, Carnegie’s gifts come mainly under three headings: education, welfare and peace. In the early years of his retirement, most of his efforts covered educational spheres. His largest gifts were reserved for libraries. Carnegie gave money to build 2,509 libraries throughout the English speaking world including the British Isles, Australia, and New Zealand. Of these libraries, 1,679 of them were built in the United States and in American possessions that were later incorporated into America proper (Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). He spent over $55 million on libraries alone and he is often referred to as the "Patron Saint of Libraries."

Carnegie had two main reasons for donating money to the founding of libraries. First, he believed that libraries added to the meritocratic nature of America. Anyone with the right inclination and desire could educate himself. Second, Carnegie believed that immigrants like himself needed to acquire cultural knowledge of America, which libraries allowed immigrants to do.

Helping to build a Temple of Peace Gradually Carnegie's interest shifted towards the field of the international peace movement. Carnegie's quest for peace led to the founding of a wide range of funds and trusts, the most significant being the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He first became acquainted with the concept of the Peace Palace in 1900. His initial intentions were not to build a Temple of Peace, but rather to have a building to house the Permanent Court of Abitration (PCA) and to provide that Court with a library on international law. In 1904 the Carnegie Foundation was established, its name-giver donating a sum of $ 1.5 million (now, c. $ 30 million).

As for the construction of the building itself, Carnegie expressed his wish for an open and international competition resulting in a building that was to stand alone, preferably in a park. The building should contain spacious rooms, which are large enough to have meetings in and provided with a great library equipped with all the modern technical devices. Therefore, an international competition was held for the most suitable design for the building. The winner was the French architect Louis M. Cordonnier, whose design was amended by the Dutch architect J.A.G. Van der Steur.

All nations contributed towards the construction of the Peace Palace by making available characteristics products of their soil, art or industry, in this way symbolising the collaboration of the nations in the foundation of this great building. The Peace Palace was officially opened in 1913.

Andrew Carnegie died on August 11, 1919 in Lenox, MS, leaving an inheritance of material and spiritual plenty that to this day helps to further peace and justice all over the world.


  • Carnegie, Andrew, "Wealth," North American Review, 148, no. 391 (June 1889), pp. 653, 657­62
  • Encyclopædia Britannica Online. January 5, 2004.
  • Eyffinger, Arthur, The Peace Palace: Residence for Justice, Domicile of Learning. The Hague: Carnegie Foundation, 1988.
  • Lorenzen, Michael, 'Deconstructing the Philanthropic Library: The Sociological Reasons Behind Andrew Carnegie's Millions to Libraries'.

  • back: The Peace Palace Library