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The Richest Man in the World Wanted to be a Librarian
This individual was the richest and greatest Scotsman who ever lived. No wiser or nobler act was ever done than when he opened the doors of knowledge to millions of people in all English-speaking lands.
If asked, who was the most competent, generous, original and independent individual in the world? You could not find anyone who fit this description any better.
He would have been the richest person in the world if he had not given such a large portion of his fortune away.
“If I had my life to live over again, I would prefer to be a librarian,” he said.
Who was this 20th Century giant?
The answer, of course, is “Andrew Carnegie.”
In 1889 he wrote, “The Gospel of Wealth.” In this essay, he wrote that wealthy people should live without extravagance, provide moderately for their families and consider the rest of their wealth as extra money that they should distribute to promote the welfare and happiness of other people.
In his lifetime, Carnegie gave away more than $350 million or almost 90 percent of his fortune for what he considered the improvement of all humanity.
All through his long life, Carnegie’s motto was MORE. He made more, gave away more and did more, than any one else, with the possible exception of John D. Rockefeller.
Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Scotland in 1835 where he grew up in a very small cottage. His father was a poor weaver and a discontented local labor leader.
When he was 13, lack of work compelled the whole family to move to America. They set sail on a tiny schooner and made the voyage in 49 days.
Carnegie had little or no schooling, but he was a fervent reader. His eagerness for books attracted the attention of a kindly man named Colonel Anderson, who offered the use of his library to the young Scottish boy.
That library made Carnegie. It developed him from an errand-boy mentality into an extraordinary leader.
By the time he was 17, he had taught himself telegraphy. One day when the operators were absent an important message came in. He jumped up and took it. This was against the rules, but earned him a promotion to an operator with a salary of $6 a week.
Two years later, he jumped up again and cleared up a railway accident. This was also against the rules. Nevertheless, he received a promotion, this time as secretary to a railway manager.
Andrew saved his money and bought shares in all sorts of companies. For ten years, he was a clerk and an assistant to the head of the railroad.
He was full of initiative. While others deliberated, he acted. When the Prince of Wales visited Pittsburgh, for instance, young Carnegie stepped forward and said to the Prince, “Would you like a ride on the train engine?” So, the future King of England and the future King of Steel had a great ride together in the cab with the train engineer.
At 27, Carnegie made his first $1,000 in an oil venture. Then, when he was 29, he bought a one-sixth interest in a little iron company for $9,000. It was a miserable little iron company that wobbled about on the verge of bankruptcy.
The other shareholders lost hope, so Carnegie bought them out. He hung on. “What we need,” he said, “is more business.” Promptly, he gave up his railroad job, became a sales representative for his company and sold iron products.
Carnegie got larger orders at better prices. He put in better machinery. He worked like a demon. Very soon, he became what most of us would call rich. However, he was not satisfied. You see he always wanted more.
At 31, he visited England and saw a steel rail at Derby. At Sheffield, he saw a Bessemer converter for the first time. It fascinated him. Carnegie rushed back to America and began to build his steel company. He borrowed from everybody he knew and staked all he had on steel.
By 1881, Carnegie Steel Company was the greatest steel maker in the world. It had 45,000 employees.
By 1889, he was willing to sell out, and offered his company to his partners for $155 million. They were not quick enough to act for Carneigie, so he offered his company to John D. Rockefeller for $250 million.
Rockefeller said, “Too much.” Carnegie then started a selling campaign. Once again, his motto was “MORE.”
Carnegie declared war on his competitors until they decided to buy him out in 1900 at any cost. They paid him $450 million in bonds and shares for his company.
At once, he became the richest man in the world. He had a pension of $15,000,000 a year. “Hurrah,” he said, “I’m out of business.”
In general, his policy as a businessperson was as follows:
1. Promote mass production.
2. Use only, the latest and best machinery.
3. Concentrate by, “Putting all your eggs in one basket,” he said, “And watch that basket.”
4. Avoid details. He managed the business from a distance.
5. He traveled extensively because he believed in keeping in touch with outside influences.
6. Insist on daily reports from all managers.
7. Give managers small salaries and large commissions, payable in stock.
8. Reinvest profits into your business.
9. Have good wages, high profits and low costs. He excelled at meeting this goal.
Considered by many to be the father of American philanthropy, Andrew Carnegie spent much of his adult life amassing a huge fortune. At age 65, he sold his company and devoted the rest of his life to giving nearly all of his money away.
In his philanthropy, too, Carnegie always had one fixed policy, help the person who is trying to help himself. He did not believe in charity, in the ordinary sense.
One of Carnegie’s lifelong interests was the establishment of free public libraries as a way of making education available to everyone.
There were only a few public libraries in the world when Carnegie began promising a library to almost any town that would provide a site and promise to maintain the building. He donated more than $56 million to build 2,509 libraries throughout the world, many of which are still serving their communities today.
He built libraries, so that people could improve themselves by reading books, as he did.
Who has not visited a Carnegie Library?
Who has not heard of Carnegie Hall?
Who has not heard of Carnegie Mellon University?
Carnegie’s only extravagance was travel but he regarded travel as essential for business. He had simple tastes and was a very small man; only five feet four inches tall.
Carnegie regarded business as a game, one that you played to win. He never let his money master him, though, as most of us would.
He was a boy-hearted man, always dedicated, enthusiastic and quick to act. His brain was always bubbling over with new ideas for the improvement of the human race.
Carnegie did not care about his looks and detested pressed clothes and fashionable society. He avoided all societies for the rich.
Steel, libraries, peace and democracy were his hobbies. He liked science and enjoyed music too, as evidenced by Carnegie Hall.
Books were his passion. Once he said, “If I had my life to live over again, I would prefer to be a librarian.”
He married when he was 52. His wife, Louise, devoted herself to housekeeping and later to their philanthropies. Always the businessperson, Carnegie and his wife signed a prenuptial agreement when they were married.
They had one daughter who, at 22, married a young American railway manager. Carnegie would have been heartbroken if she had married into society.
Carnegie was a good employer and was always first to raise wages. He did not economize by cutting down the pay of his workers. Instead, he improved the machinery.
One of the most difficult episodes in Andrew Carnegie’s life was the one that revealed the steel magnate’s conflicting beliefs regarding the rights of labor. It involved a bitter labor conflict in 1892 at his steel plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania. Carnegie’s involvement in union-busting action left many men dead or wounded and tarnished Carnegie’s reputation as a benevolent employer and a champion of labor.
He made tons of money, but it was all clean money. He made nobody poorer. He earned it, as the fee of leadership. When he was born, steel was twenty-five cents a pound. He reduced it to one-and-a-half cents.
Carneigie was a true capitalist; and his career was a complete answer to the growing Bolshevism of that day. He robbed no one, raised wages and made work easier. He created more jobs and lowered prices. He built up a great trade for the benefit of the whole world.
This saga all began in a tiny cottage in Dunfermline, Scotland where he was born November 25, 1835. Such is the epic life of Andrew Carnegie, the greatest of all industrial Scots. He was 84 when he died in 1919.
Copyright 2007 by Robert L. Bergeth
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