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Business Ethics Thinkers

Andrew Carnegie

The original wealthy philanthropist


Born in Dunfermline, Scotland.
Carnegie family left Scotland for America.
Joined the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Took out a loan and made first investment.
Promoted to superintendent at Pennsylvania Railroad.
Invested in an oil company in Pennsylvania.
Founded Keystone Bridge Co.
Opened his first steel plant, the Edgar Thomson Works.
Supplied steel for the Brooklyn Bridge.
Acquired the Homestead Works.
Publication of Triumphant Democracy.
Publication of The Gospel of Wealth.
Formed Carnegie Steel.
Bought out by J. P. Morgan for US$480 million.
Established Carnegie Teachers’ Pension Fund.
Established the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Established the Carnegie Corporation, which gave away 90% of his fortune.
Died in Lenox, Massachusetts.

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Life and Career

Andrew Carnegie was born into poverty in Scotland and moved to the United States with his family when he was 12. After a succession of jobs he joined the Pennsylvania Railroad, as a telegraph operator and was quickly promoted. He started investing when only 21, and continued to invest wisely, especially in the burgeoning oil industry. By the time he was 30, he was the principal shareholder in several successful companies, a partner in others, and a respected and powerful businessman and industrialist. After building up the steel industry in Pittsburgh, he sold it to J. P. Morgan, and devoted the rest of his life to his philanthropic activities and writing.

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Key Thinking

  • Carnegie epitomizes the rags to riches story, a poor immigrant who started his career in a cotton mill when he was 13, working long hours for just US$1.20 a week.

  • During the American Civil War, he developed production to aid the provision of munitions to the Union, and later became the first mass producer of railroad lines.

  • He established and then dominated the American steel industry.

  • He became friends with poets, philosophers, business leaders, and statesmen, and himself became a major player on the political scene.

  • Carnegie made US$225,639,000 from selling his business to J. P. Morgan, making him one of the wealthiest men in the world.

  • Even before he made his fortune, Carnegie had resolved to give away money if he became rich, as he thought that the rich had a moral obligation to be benevolent.

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In Perspective

  • He started investing at a young age with the help of his employer at Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

  • Bought the Homestead Steel Works in 1888, which helped form part of Carnegie Steel Company, and acquired other specialized companies that eventually became the United States Steel Corporation.

  • Carnegie’s reputation was affected by accusations of strikebreaking at the Homestead Works in 1892, when the unions fought a pay cut, which resulted in an extended lock-out. Non-unionized workers and detectives were brought in.

  • He was bought out by the banker, John Pierpont Morgan, who envisioned a single US-wide, steel-producing organization that could ensure lower prices and better wages.

  • Carnegie started writing and contributing to magazines and periodicals, and wrote Triumphant Democracy, which examined the progress America had made in society and industry.

  • In The Gospel of Wealth, he considered the role of the wealthy businessmen in society. He felt that all personal monies above what was needed to live should be used for the benefit of the community.

  • During his lifetime, he reportedly gave away more than US$350 million.

  • In 1908, he commissioned Napoleon Hill to research a book on how the wealthy had made their fortune, which was successfully published after Carnegie’s death as The Law of Success, and Think and Grow Rich, which are regularly reissued.

  • His name lives on in the institutions and awards he founded, such as the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Carnegie Hall in New York, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Mellon University, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (which awards the Carnegie Prize), the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Medal for literature, and the Carnegie Hero Fund.

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“No man can become rich without himself enriching others.”

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Further reading on Andrew Carnegie


  • Carnegie, Andrew, and Gordon Hutner. The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie and the Gospel of Wealth. New York: Signet Classics, 2006.
  • Krass, Peter. Carnegie. New York: Wiley, 2002.
  • Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

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