The rise of capitalism was characterised by exploitation and opportunity. Opportunities, if taken at the chance, enabled men to access wealth. Andrew Carnegie is the perfect example of an entrepreneur and man who built the roots of American infrastructure. He can also lived the ‘perfect’ American dream. He has a typical ‘rags to riches’ story, which makes him a historical icon and an admirable man. Carnegie is known to have built a fortune on steel. However, the ways in which he made money could be considered an abuse to ethics and moral rights. Toward the end of his life, Carnegie decided to use his wealth for the greater good of the community and encouraged learning. For the above reasons, he can be considered as a robber baron, but I believed that he also worked for the greater good of human nature.
Carnegie was able to take opportunities to create a vast fortune. He came from absolutely nothing, but is known as a captain of industry. He monopolised wealth, transport and infrastructure. He was born in Scotland in 1835. His family migrated to America in 1848 when he was thirteen. As a young boy, he worked in a cotton factory in Pittsburgh. He did not have many years of schooling nor attended university but he became the richest man on the planet during the industrial revolution. In this sense, he is the incarnation of the American Dream. One of Carnegie’s sayings; “The first man gets the oyster, the second gets the shell” explains his career fully.
Carnegie had the ability to identify and seize opportunities, to foresee what would happen to industries and to take risks. He also stated that; “people who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity no matter how impressive their other talents” show his ambitiousness. Carnegie was not content with commonplace. His ability to seize opportunities and invest in them helped greatly his career. He saw potential in telegraphing and transport. While he was working in the railroad industry, in 1859, he saw a connection between steel and infrastructure. Carnegie grabbed the opportunity and created a successful steel company, a great example of capitalist exploitation.
Carnegie’s steel company, Carnegie Steel, which opened near Pittsburgh in the 1870s, is an example exploitation during the rise of capitalism. Carnegie created employment. The way he ran his company can be believed to be an abuse of manpower and human capacities. His workplace was similar to modern day sweatshops. He made men work hard. They had long hours, twelve hours per day, six days per week, in extremely poor working conditions. Because steel was in demand at the time, due to the advancements in steam engines, Carnegie decided to keep costs low to attract more people. However that meant that he kept his workers’ wages low as well.
This resulted in violent labour strike in 1892. Carnegie always preached for rights of workers and unions. However his actions did not match his rhetoric. A major strike at Carnegie Steel was a clash between capitalism and workers’ unions. It was bloody and violent. It lasted five month. During that time Carnegie went to Scotland and left the company’s general manager, Henry Clay Frick in charge. 300 Pinkerton armed guards were posted around the factory and ten men were killed. Carnegie’s only way out of this dilemma was to sell his factory. He sold it to J. Pier Morgan, for $480 million, in 1901. Andrew Carnegie turned his career from capitalism to philanthropy.
When Carnegie sold his steel company to Morgan, he became the “richest man on earth”, said Morgan the day he bought the company. In 1889, Carnegie had published an essay, in which he stated that, “the rich have a moral obligation to distribute their money in ways to promote the welfare and happiness of the common man”. He also said that, “the man who dies rich thus dies disgraced”. During his life he gave away more than $350 millions. Carnegie supported education and reading.
He donated money to 2500 libraries around the world. The particular thing about Carnegie’s philanthropist career is that he did not just want to help people; he wanted to help others help themselves. He gave away his money for the improvement of mankind. For example, giving money away to libraries instead of people allowed mankind educate themselves. Consequently, education became easier to access for everyone. Carnegie became one of the most famous philanthropists, a complete opposite to the man whom exploited people in his factory.
Andrew Carnegie was both a robber baron and a philanthropist. In my opinion, he worked for the greater good of human nature. He was a man who took opportunities to make his career, as well as giving other opportunities. Even though he exploited people, and the working conditions in his steel factory are an example of that, he offered them jobs, and a way to make money for their families. I agree that in the end he “helped others to help themselves”. His massive donation of $350 millions shows his change of heart towards the end of his life. As Carnegie, grew up in a poor social class, I believe that he wanted to give others similar opportunities as he strived for. Giving them a chance for education and free access to libraries. The millions of dollars that he donated gave others a chance to improve their lives. I believe that Andrew Carnegie is a man to be remembered as one whom sought better mankind.