Thursday, August 9, 2012

andrew carnegie: pittsburgh steel tycoon

image source: Wikipedia

Congratulations to The Professor over at The Dancing Manead for winning my first, shoddily advertised giveaway prize for guessing the gentleman who founded the museums where I now work- Andrew Carnegie.

This 19th century Robber baron, born in 1836 came from modest lineage in Dunfermline, Scotland.  When he was a boy he as watched his father, a weaver, was gradually put out of work by machines and industry.  As a result the family immigrated to America in 1848, ending up in the poor suburb of Allegheny City outside of Pittsburgh, PA (Allegheny City eventually became what is today's North Side).  There he worked as a bobbin boy at a cotton mill, changing spools of thread. Later he got a job as a telegraph messenger boy for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, where he memorized the streets of Pittsburgh and the faces of important men.  He also taught himself to telegraph based on observing the operators at work, and was promoted to a telegraph officer.  With the help of Thomas A. Scott, president of the company and his mentor, Carnegie moved his way up the ranks, eventually becoming superintendent of the Pittsburgh Division.  With the help of Scott he made his first investments, reinvesting his returns in businesses that were valuable to the railroad, such as ironworks.

After the American Civil War Carnegie left the railroad industry to devote all of his time to producing iron, which eventually led to him producing steel.  This latter industry is where Carnegie made his vast fortune and where he received the infamy associated with the steel magnates of the 19th century.  Not only was he a part of the very industrial practices that abused workers' rights and led to the creation of unions, but he also is connected to two deadly tragedies in the Western PA area- the Johnstown Flood in 1889, caused when a dam burst due to rising water levels caused by the winter thaw, and changes made to the dam by the wealthy sports' club to which Carnegie belonged; and the 1892 Homestead Strike, where a bloody confrontation between striking steelworkers from Carnegie's own Homestead Steel Works and Pinkerton detectives resulted in ten deaths. In the first instance Carnegie is rather indirectly connected, and in the second Carnegie was in Scotland at the time, and his business partner, Henry Clay Frick, made the fatal decision to retake control of the steel works by involving the state militia and Pinkertons in the strike.  But still, Carnegie is a Robber baron, an example of 19th century businessmen who used questionable, unorthodox, and sometimes immoral means to acquire their wealth.

Some people think that Carnegie's philanthropic endeavors, especially in the last 20 years of his life, were a result of the guilt that he may have felt for being so wealthy and well-off compared to the steel workers who gave their blood, sweat and tears for his steel works while living in poor conditions.  But Carnegie is not considered to be a ruthless man by 19th century standards, and his philanthropy is viewed by many as proof of Carnegie's genuine humanitarianism.  Whatever the case, the man who was once a poor bobbin boy from Scotland ended up giving away nearly $350 million over the course of his life to good causes, and at his death the remainder of his wealth ($30 million) was given away to charities, foundations, and pensioners.  Oh yeah, he started a pension program in the early 1900s for former employees as well.  Pretty impressive considering what most employers did at the time for their employees- nothing.

As a result of Carnegie's philanthropy the world was gifted with such institutions as:
My new job is at the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, which were opened in the 1890s and have grown to become part of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, which includes the Carnegie Science Center and Andy Warhol Museum.  Although he had an office in the now Natural History building, Carnegie himself was rarely here- he spent much of his time in New York and Scotland.  But he was very interested in acquiring new specimens for his collections, including excellent, mostly complete fossils of Tyrannosaurus rex and Diplodocus carnegii (named after the man who worked fervently to purchase the specimen for his new museum).  There are also mummies, a gem and mineral collection, an excellent collection of Impressionist and other 19th century art and contemporary art (with modest contributions from other eras of art) and casts of architectural masterpieces from around the world.

I would not normally advertise the location of where I work, except there are over 1,000 employees here, so you'd be hard-pressed to find me.  Also, I will be promoting a lot of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh goodies on this blog as a direct result of my enthusiasm for this institution, so it's only fair to give you readers a warning now.


  1. YAY! And this is so many kinds of awesome! :D Congrats on your new job at a most fabulous place.

    1. Thank you! And congrats on winning the contest!

  2. 1. Congrats on your new job
    2. I'll be in Pittsburgh this weekend. We're going to see the Frick Museum.

    1. 1. Thanks Rubina!

      2. You will love the Frick Museum- Henry Clay Frick had quite a remarkable private art collection. Also worth checking out is the Clayton House- Frick's own opulent villa in Pittsburgh. It's right next to the Frick Museum: