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In 1914, Andrew Carnegie called upon his peers to fulfill their duties to use their wealth towards benevolent and philanthropic purposes. He urged the powerful men of his time to shun a life of ostentatious display and to provide for the legitimate needs of those who depended on them. At the time, the steel magnate was doing everything in his power to stop a war from occurring. The world will later know how the failed attempts to avert the war, left the philanthropist heartbroken. Carnegie also had high hopes, and he was prepared to give up all his wealth. But the efforts to prevent the “foulest blot upon our civilization” from ravaging humanity failed.

From a penniless Scotsman to a steel magnate to a peace arbitrator, Carnegie’s life story is a tale worth telling. Bold Business shines the Bold Leader Spotlight on Andrew Carnegie – The Patron Saint of Libraries, the Star-spangled Scotsman and the proponent of the Gospel of Wealth.

andrew carnegie on the gospel of wealth
Would the principle of Andrew Carnegie still apply to modern society?

 The Humble Beginnings of Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie was born in 1835 to parents Will and Margaret. Will Carnegie is a skilled weaver, and the Carnegies were one of the working-class families in Dunfermline, Scotland. The industrial revolution of the 19th century left hundreds of manual loom-weavers unemployed. The introduction of steam-powered looms in Scotland left a lot of families displaced. They immigrated to the US in search of opportunities. In 1848, the Carnegies moved to the US and settled in the bustling industrial city of Pittsburgh.

Andrew began working at 13 years old. He started as a bobbin boy changing spools in a cotton factory. In the succeeding years, he moved from various jobs – from messenger boy to telegraph operator to secretary. Along the way, Andrew also met mentors who helped him learn the ropes of the trade, such as management, cost control, trading, and shares. One of his mentors, Thomas A. Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, helped the young entrepreneur with his first investments in the railroad business. Slowly, he began building his wealth.

The Rise of a Steel Magnate

After the Civil War of 1865, Carnegie began investing in ironworks trade and eventually forming the Keystone Bridge Works and the Union Ironworks. He opened and acquired more companies along the way, further building his wealth. In 1875, Carnegie opened his first steel company in Braddock, Pennsylvania. He called the company Edgar Thomson Works – named after one of his mentors. He also invested in a coal-based fuel company owned by Henry Frick. By 1883, Carnegie acquired Homestead Works Steel Works which will become the final piece to complete the Carnegie Steel Company. Eventually, Carnegie sold the Carnegie Steel to JP Morgan Chase in 1901 for $480 million, making the steel magnate the richest man on earth.

gospel of wealth, david nasaw quoted
All successes, big and small, begin from a dream.

Living According to the Gospel of Wealth

With the publication of the Gospel of Wealth in 1889, Carnegie contends that men of wealth have the moral obligation to redistribute surplus wealth back to the community. In this essay, Carnegie offers specific steps on how the wealthy can bestow charity. The Gospel of Wealth asserts, “In bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who will help themselves; to provide part of the means by which those who desire to improve may do so.” Consequently, Carnegie created a path of philanthropy that many others will later follow.

With the establishment of the Carnegie Institution in 1902, Carnegie was able to provide funds for research for American colleges and universities. The steel magnate also began donating funds to various causes such as the teachers’ pension fund, movements for international peace and justice. He sent aids to health organizations and scientific research funding across the globe. He also earned the nickname “Patron Saint of Libraries for founding a total of 2,509 libraries all over the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By 1911, Carnegie has already given away 90% of his wealth.

While the western world was at the brink of war, Carnegie has been funding peace conferences and donating funds to create peace treaties. In 1913, he built the Palace of Peace in Hague which houses the Church Peace Union to avert the war.

andrew carnegie and his principles in the gospel of wealth
There is no honor in dying rich.

The Bold Leadership of Andrew Carnegie

  • A Bold Leader recognizes that he cannot do it alone.

Carnegie believed that men who build great fortunes had to rely on the community and workers to execute their goals. For this reason, he was an advocate of workers’ right to organize into unions. In 1886, he published an essay in Forum Magazine defending unions. He was also the publisher of Triumphant Democracy, a periodical that celebrated democracy and capitalism.

  • A Bold Leader empowers and helps those who help themselves.

Carnegie did not believe in handouts. He frowned at the indiscriminate charity. For the philanthropist, it would be better if “the millions of the rich were thrown in to the sea than so spent as to encourage the slothful, the drunken, the unworthy.” With Carnegie’s Charitable Institutions, recipient communities were obligated to contribute to the cause to encourage a continuing interest in the project.

  • A Bold Leader with a mission to give others a chance in life.

Carnegie was born in an era of hyper economic growth. As a man of vision and ambition, he took this as an opportunity to grow his wealth. However, he was also aware that the more he accumulates, the greater his responsibility to give away. After the sale of Carnegie Steel in 1901, he stated, “I must follow my beliefs and begin the hard task of giving my money away for the good of all.”

Carnegie’s Gift of Philanthropy

The life of Andrew Carnegie is depicted in two prevailing themes. These are the accumulation of wealth and its redistribution back to the community. Because of intelligence, abilities, and charisma, Carnegie was able to build an immense fortune. But the resolve and determination to give back is Carnegie’s greatest gift to humanity.

Carnegie deftly fulfilled his mission to give away his wealth to improve the lives of others. He established numerous organizations, trust funds, and libraries. When the steel magnate turned peace advocate passed away on August 1919, he had given away a total of $356 million. Without a doubt, Carnegie gave so much back to the community. By setting an example, Carnegie was able to pave a path of philanthropy.

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