Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie

Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie

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by Andrew Carnegie

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Born in Scotland but an immigrant to the United States as a teenager, Andrew Carnegie has been variously characterized as a "captain of industry" or a "robber baron" by those who have chronicled his rise to wealth and fame in the latter nineteenth century. After selling his steel company to J.P. Morgan at the turn of the century, Carnegie devoted himself to…  See more details below


Born in Scotland but an immigrant to the United States as a teenager, Andrew Carnegie has been variously characterized as a "captain of industry" or a "robber baron" by those who have chronicled his rise to wealth and fame in the latter nineteenth century. After selling his steel company to J.P. Morgan at the turn of the century, Carnegie devoted himself to philanthropic goals. He gave away more than $350 million to various causes and endowed more than 250,000 libraries. His philanthropic activities were underpinned by a fundamental belief in the virtue of hard work, perseverance, and self-improvement through education, hence his emphasis on libraries and the endowing of other educational organizations. Fundamentally, this book offers a restatement of the "Horatio Alger" myth of the "American dream" of success through personal commitment. At the same time Carnegie seeks to pass on his wisdom gained through a lifetime of effort. A significant and fascinating statement of American industrial individualism that is required reading for all who wish to understand the history of the United States in the latter nineteenth century, Carnegie's autobiography also served as a model for many others to follow. Unfortunately, few achieved the success that Carnegie enjoyed despite the diligence they may have registered.

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Boston, New York, Houghton Mifflin company
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Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie

By Andrew Carnegie


Copyright © 2015 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-2262-0



IF THE STORY OF ANY MAN'S LIFE, truly told, must be interesting, as some sage avers, those of my relatives and immediate friends who have insisted upon having an account of mine may not be unduly disappointed with this result. I may console myself with the assurance that such a story must interest at least a certain number of people who have known me, and that knowledge will encourage me to proceed.

A book of this kind, written years ago by my friend, Judge Mellon, of Pittsburgh, gave me so much pleasure that I am inclined to agree with the wise one whose opinion I have given above; for, certainly, the story which the Judge told has proved a source of infinite satisfaction to his friends, and must continue to influence succeeding generations of his family to live life well. And not only this; to some beyond his immediate circle it holds rank with their favorite authors. The book contains one essential feature of value — it reveals the man. It was written without any intention of attracting public notice, being designed only for his family. In like manner I intend to tell my story, not as one posturing before the public, but as in the midst of my own people and friends, tried and true, to whom I can speak with the utmost freedom, feeling that even trifling incidents may not be wholly destitute of interest for them.

To begin, then, I was born in Dunfermline, in the attic of the small one-story house, corner of Moodie Street and Priory Lane, on the 25th of November, 1835, and, as the saying is, "of poor but honest parents, of good kith and kin." Dunfermline had long been noted as the center of the damask trade in Scotland. My father, William Carnegie, was a damask weaver, the son of Andrew Carnegie after whom I was named.

My Grandfather Carnegie was well known throughout the district for his wit and humor, his genial nature and irrepressible spirits. He was head of the lively ones of his day, and known far and near as the chief of their joyous club — "Patiemuir College." Upon my return to Dunfermline, after an absence of fourteen years, I remember being approached by an old man who had been told that I was the grandson of the "Professor," my grandfather's title among his cronies. He was the very picture of palsied eld;

"His nose and chin they threatened ither."

As he tottered across the room toward me and laid his trembling hand upon my head he said: "And ye are the grandson o' Andra Carnegie! Eh, mon, I ha'e seen the day when your grandfaither and I could ha'e hallooed ony reasonable man oot o' his jidgment."

Several other old people of Dunfermline told me stories of my grandfather. Here is one of them:

One Hogmanay night an old wifey, quite a character in the village, being surprised by a disguised face suddenly thrust in at the window, looked up and after a moment's pause exclaimed, "Oh, it's jist that daft callant Andra Carnegie." She was right; my grandfather at seventy-five was out frightening his old lady friends, disguised like other frolicking youngsters.

I think my optimistic nature, my ability to shed trouble and to laugh through life, making "all my ducks swans," as friends say I do, must have been inherited from this delightful old masquerading grandfather whose name I am proud to bear. A sunny disposition is worth more than fortune. Young people should know that it can be cultivated; that the mind like the body can be moved from the shade into sunshine. Let us move it then. Laugh trouble away if possible, and one usually can if he be anything of a philosopher, provided that self-reproach comes not from his own wrongdoing. That always remains. There is no washing out of these "damned spots." The judge within sits in the Supreme Court and can never be cheated. Hence the grand rule of life which Burns gives:

"Thine own reproach alone do fear."

This motto adopted early in life has been more to me than all the sermons I ever heard, and I have heard not a few, although I may admit resemblance to my old friend Baillie Walker in my mature years. He was asked by his doctor about his sleep and replied that it was far from satisfactory, he was very wakeful, adding with a twinkle in his eye: "But I get a bit fine doze I' the kirk noo and then."

On my mother's side the grandfather was even more marked, for my grandfather Thomas Morrison was a friend of William Cobbett, a contributor to his Register, and in constant correspondence with him. Even as I write, in Dunfermline old men who knew Grandfather Morrison speak of him as one of the finest orators and ablest men they have known. He was publisher of The Precursor, a small edition it might be said of Cobbett's Register, and thought to have been the first radical paper in Scotland. I have read some of his writings, and in view of the importance now given to technical education, I think the most remarkable of them is a pamphlet which he published seventy-odd years ago entitled "Head-ication versus Hand-ication." It insists upon the importance of the latter in a manner that would reflect credit upon the strongest advocate of technical education to-day. It ends with these words, "I thank God that in my youth I learned to make and mend shoes." Cobbett published it in the Register in 1833, remarking editorially, "One of the most valuable communications ever published in the Register upon the subject, is that of our esteemed friend and correspondent in Scotland, Thomas Morrison, which appears in this issue." So it seems I come by my scribbling propensities by inheritance — from both sides, for the Carnegies were also readers and thinkers.

My Grandfather Morrison was a born orator, a keen politician, and the head of the advanced wing of the radical party in the district — a position which his son, my Uncle Bailie Morrison, occupied as his successor. More than one well-known Scotsman in America has called upon me, to shake hands with "the grandson of Thomas Morrison." Mr. Farmer, president of the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Railroad Company, once said to me, "I owe all that I have of learning and culture to the influence of your grandfather"; and Ebenezer Henderson, author of the remarkable history of Dunfermline, stated that he largely owed his advancement in life to the fortunate fact that while a boy he entered my grandfather's service.

I have not passed so far through life without receiving some compliments, but I think nothing of a complimentary character has ever pleased me so much as this from a writer in a Glasgow newspaper, who had been a listener to a speech on Home Rule in America which I delivered in Saint Andrew's Hall. The correspondent wrote that much was then being said in Scotland with regard to myself and family and especially my grandfather Thomas Morrison, and he went on to say, "Judge my surprise when I found in the grandson on the platform, in manner, gesture and appearance, a perfect facsimile of the Thomas Morrison of old."

My surprising likeness to my grandfather, whom I do not remember to have ever seen, cannot be doubted, because I remember well upon my first return to Dunfermline in my twenty-seventh year, while sitting upon a sofa with my Uncle Bailie Morrison, that his big black eyes filled with tears. He could not speak and rushed out of the room overcome. Returning after a time he explained that something in me now and then flashed before him his father, who would instantly vanish but come back at intervals. Some gesture it was, but what precisely he could not make out. My mother continually noticed in me some of my grandfather's peculiarities. The doctrine of inherited tendencies is proved every day and hour, but how subtle is the law which transmits gesture, something as it were beyond the material body. I was deeply impressed.

My Grandfather Morrison married Miss Hodge, of Edinburgh, a lady in education, manners, and position, who died while the family was still young. At this time he was in good circumstances, a leather merchant conducting the tanning business in Dunfermline; but the peace after the Battle of Waterloo involved him in ruin, as it did thousands; so that while my Uncle Bailie, the eldest son, had been brought up in what might be termed luxury, for he had a pony to ride, the younger members of the family encountered other and harder days.

The second daughter, Margaret, was my mother, about whom I cannot trust myself to speak at length. She inherited from her mother the dignity, refinement, and air of the cultivated lady. Perhaps some day I may be able to tell the world something of this heroine, but I doubt it. I feel her to be sacred to myself and not for others to know. None could ever really know her — I alone did that. After my father's early death she was all my own. The dedication of my first book tells the story. It was: "To my favorite Heroine, My Mother."

Fortunate in my ancestors I was supremely so in my birthplace. Where one is born is very important, for different surroundings and traditions appeal to and stimulate different latent tendencies in the child. Ruskin truly observes that every bright boy in Edinburgh is influenced by the sight of the Castle. So is the child of Dunfermline, by its noble Abbey, the Westminster of Scotland, founded early in the eleventh century (1070) by Malcolm Canmore and his Queen Margaret, Scotland's patron saint. The ruins of the great monastery and of the Palace where kings were born still stand, and there, too, is Pittencrieff Glen, embracing Queen Margaret's shrine and the ruins of King Malcolm's Tower, with which the old ballad of "Sir Patrick Spens" begins:

"The King sits in Dunfermline tower,
Drinking the bluid red wine."

The tomb of The Bruce is in the center of the Abbey, Saint Margaret's tomb is near, and many of the "royal folk" lie sleeping close around. Fortunate, indeed, the child who first sees the light in that romantic town, which occupies high ground three miles north of the Firth of Forth, overlooking the sea, with Edinburgh in sight to the south, and to the north the peaks of the Ochils clearly in view. All is still redolent of the mighty past when Dunfermline was both nationally and religiously the capital of Scotland.

The child privileged to develop amid such surroundings absorbs poetry and romance with the air he breathes, assimilates history and tradition as he gazes around. These become to him his real world in childhood — the ideal is the ever-present real. The actual has yet to come when, later in life, he is launched into the workaday world of stern reality. Even then, and till his last day, the early impressions remain, sometimes for short seasons disappearing perchance, but only apparently driven away or suppressed. They are always rising and coming again to the front to exert their influence, to elevate his thought and color his life. No bright child of Dunfermline can escape the influence of the Abbey, Palace, and Glen. These touch him and set fire to the latent spark within, making him something different and beyond what, less happily born, he would have become. Under these inspiring conditions my parents had also been born, and hence came, I doubt not, the potency of the romantic and poetic strain which pervaded both.

As my father succeeded in the weaving business we removed from Moodie Street to a much more commodious house in Reid's Park. My father's four or five looms occupied the lower story; we resided in the upper, which was reached, after a fashion common in the older Scottish houses, by outside stairs from the pavement. It is here that my earliest recollections begin, and, strangely enough, the first trace of memory takes me back to a day when I saw a small map of America. It was upon rollers and about two feet square. Upon this my father, mother, Uncle William, and Aunt Aitken were looking for Pittsburgh and pointing out Lake Erie and Niagara. Soon after my uncle and Aunt Aitken sailed for the land of promise.

At this time I remember my cousin-brother, George Lauder ("Dod"), and myself were deeply impressed with the great danger overhanging us because a lawless flag was secreted in the garret. It had been painted to be carried, and I believe was carried by my father, or uncle, or some other good radical of our family, in a procession during the Corn Law agitation. There had been riots in the town and a troop of cavalry was quartered in the Guildhall. My grandfathers and uncles on both sides, and my father, had been foremost in addressing meetings, and the whole family circle was in a ferment.

I remember as if it were yesterday being awakened during the night by a tap at the back window by men who had come to inform my parents that my uncle, Bailie Morrison, had been thrown into jail because he had dared to hold a meeting which had been forbidden. The sheriff with the aid of the soldiers had arrested him a few miles from the town where the meeting had been held, and brought him into the town during the night, followed by an immense throng of people.

Serious trouble was feared, for the populace threatened to rescue him, and, as we learned afterwards, he had been induced by the provost of the town to step forward to a window overlooking the High Street and beg the people to retire. This he did, saying: "If there be a friend of the good cause here to-night, let him fold his arms." They did so. And then, after a pause, he said, "Now depart in peace!" My uncle, like all our family, was a moral-force man and strong for obedience to law, but radical to the core and an intense admirer of the American Republic.

One may imagine when all this was going on in public how bitter were the words that passed from one to the other in private. The denunciations of monarchical and aristocratic government, of privilege in all its forms, the grandeur of the republican system, the superiority of America, a land peopled by our own race, a home for freemen in which every citizen's privilege was every man's right — these were the exciting themes upon which I was nurtured. As a child I could have slain king, duke, or lord, and considered their deaths a service to the state and hence an heroic act.

Such is the influence of childhood's earliest associations that it was long before I could trust myself to speak respectfully of any privileged class or person who had not distinguished himself in some good way and therefore earned the right to public respect. There was still the sneer behind for mere pedigree — "he is nothing, has done nothing, only an accident, a fraud strutting in borrowed plumes; all he has to his account is the accident of birth; the most fruitful part of his family, as with the potato, lies underground." I wondered that intelligent men could live where another human being was born to a privilege which was not also their birthright. I was never tired of quoting the only words which gave proper vent to my indignation:

"There was a Brutus once that would have brooked
Th' eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king."

But then kings were kings, not mere shadows. All this was inherited, of course. I only echoed what I heard at home.

Dunfermline has long been renowned as perhaps the most radical town in the Kingdom, although I know Paisley has claims. This is all the more creditable to the cause of radicalism because in the days of which I speak the population of Dunfermline was in large part composed of men who were small manufacturers, each owning his own loom or looms. They were not tied down to regular hours, their labors being piecework. They got webs from the larger manufacturers and the weaving was done at home.


Excerpted from Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie by Andrew Carnegie. Copyright © 2015 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

John C. Van Dyke
Nothing stranger ever came out of The Arabian Nights than the story of poor Scotch boy who came to America and step by step, through many trials and triumphs, became the great steel master, built a colossal industry, amassed an enormous fortune, and then deliberately and systematically gave away the whole of it for the enlightenment and betterment of mankind.
—(John C. Van Dyke, editor's note to the 1920 edition)

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The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie 3 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 25 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While the book does contain typographical errors due to the scanning process, it is a historical gem. So incredible to read the words of a man so devoted to philanthropy. He was before his time.
Kgf More than 1 year ago
Not written very well !
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found it fascinating to learn details of his early life and how he committed himself to stay true to his basic values. He was not particularly greedy, but often helped others. I'm afraid that may be presently out of style. He writes in a chatty fashion, making it easy to pick up, put down and start over again whenever it's convenient.
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This book brought you back in time to before america became depended on the government.  His life story told of a person who was a hard working person who stuck to his core values even after he became wealthy. Another thing that struck me was his since of responibily to his fellow man.