Andrew Carnegie
Rags to Riches

 

 

 

Hard times and politics drove the Carnegie family from Scotland in 1848. Will Carnegie, young Andrew's father, was a weaver in Dunfermline, the town's once-booming linen industry, which had long enjoyed a reputation for producing the finest damask linens in Great Britain. Dunfermline weavers struggling to feed their families put their faith in a political panacea called Chartism, a popular movement of the British working class. The Chartists believed that by allowing the masses to vote and to run for Parliament, they could seize government from the landed gentry and make conditions better for the working man.

Carnegie's father Will and his uncle Tom Morrison led the Chartist movement in Dunfermline. Despite the enthusiasm of the Dunfermline Chartists, Chartism fizzled out in 1848, after Parliament rejected the Chartists' demands for the final time. The Carnegies, however, had heard encouraging reports from America. It was a far better country for the working man than the old one.

 

The Carnegies auctioned all their belongings only to find that they still didn't have enough money to take the entire family on the voyage. They managed to borrow the last of the money and found room on a small sailing ship, the Wiscasset. At the harbour in Glasgow, they and the rest of the human cargo were assigned tightly squeezed bunks in the hold. It would be a fifty-day trip-with no privacy and miserable food. The Carnegies, like many emigrants that year, discovered their ship's crew undermanned; they and the others were frequently asked to pitch in. Many were not much help; half the passengers lay sick in their bunks, the roll of the sea too much. It was grueling. But there was always hope. The passengers traded stories about the lives they would find in the New World.

 

Finally, New York City came into sight. The ships sailed past the plush farmland and forests of the Bronx, dropping anchor off Castle Garden at the lower end of Manhattan. It was still seven years before New York would build an immigration station there and nearly half a century before Ellis Island would open. The Carnegies disembarked, disoriented by the activity of the city but anxious to continue on to the final destination-Pittsburgh.

 

The Carnegies booked passage on a steamer up the Hudson to Albany, where they found a number of jostling agents eagerly competing to carry them west on the Erie Canal. At 35 miles per day, it was slow travel and not particularly pleasant. Their "quarters" were a narrow shelf in a hot, unventilated cabin. Finally, they reached Buffalo. From there, it was only three more trips by canal boat. After three weeks travel from New York, they finally arrived in Pittsburgh, the place where Andrew would build his fortune

 

When the Carnegies arrived in 1848, Pittsburgh was already a bustling industrial city. But the city had begun to pay an environmental price for its success. The downtown had been gutted by fire in 1845; already the newly constructed buildings were so blackened by soot that they were indistinguishable from older ones. Industrial waste fouled the rivers and the air hung across the city like a thick black curtain.

 

The Carnegies lived in a neighborhood alternately called Barefoot Square and Slab town. Their home on Rebecca Street was a flimsy, dark frame house-a far cry from their cozy stone cottage in Scotland. As soon as he could afford it, Carnegie would move his family to the suburbs, away from Pittsburgh's tainted air.

Andrew Carnegie, the not yet steel magnate served the Union's war effort in the field of transportation and communications. The Scottish-born future industrialist was an employee of the Pennsylvania Railroad at the start of the Civil War. Going to Washington with the train company's Pittsbburg Division superintendent, Thomas A. Scott, Carnegie became his assistant when Scott was named assistant secretary of war charged with overseeing needs of military transportation. Carnegie rode on the engine of one of the first troop, trains to arrive in Washington, D.C. After the disaster of 1st Bull Run (1st Manassas), he organised the evacuation of the wounded and later in establishing a military telegraph network. Having succeeded Scott as superintendent, he left the railroad at the close of the war. Years later he sought world peace-one idea being simplification of the English language to make it a mode for common understand.