Carnegie, a story of capitalism
A story of capitalism...
I'm writing this blog as part of a series, breaking away from my normal blogs about macroeconomic indicators and such. I've been reading the “The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie” - and I have been absolutely delighted with this story. Ayn Rand's books promoting the entrepreneurial spirit are a pale shadow of his actual human life. When I was a kid in our American public school system, we only very briefly talked about the time period of Andrew Carnegie in history classes, much less about the man. What impressions I had of Mr. Carnegie was of an extremely rich robber barron with a penchant to build libraries. In my own home town, we had one such public library build from his philanthropy.
Now, I've been reading Carnegie's life in his own words. I wanted to share with the CAPS community some of the more interesting parts of his life – this is the first of a three part series on the man...
Carnegie's life story really is a story of man whole built everything from nothing. His tale starts in Scotland where as a child he idolized the Scottish hero “Robert the Bruce” (perhaps you have heard this name in Braveheart?), whose tomb lied in the Dunfermline Abbey of his hometown. Much of his spirit throughout his life comes from emulating this childhood hero, and never letting fear keep him from his task. I love how Carnegie refers to “the Bruce” though-out his autobiography!
Carnegie's character is toughened by his daily chore of bringing water for his school from the wellhead at Moodie Street. Every night all the housewives would leave a bucket to mark their place in line to get water from the well that only operated irregularly and with poor yield (much like how water use is now in cities of India). Poor Carnegie would be late for school every morning as he would go through the lines of all the grown women, who would occasionally accuse him of cutting in line or make false claims to get his spot, calling him “an awfu' laddie!” - but from this he learned to stick up for himself and not care of man or women's criticisms but those of his own heart.
Mr. Carnegie was but a teenager when his Scottish family immigrated to America. The rise of machinery doomed the family business, and they sold everything to start again in America. There the parents barely earned money enough to support the family so as a kid he got a job to help his family. His first job is an awful one, operating steam powered machinery in a bobbin factory – a scene basically out of a Charles Dickens novel. This gets even worse when he is moved to a position where he has to dip spools of bobbins in vats of oil, with the smell so horrible that he would throw up every day. This he never complains to his family but instead works to keeps earning money for them.
He makes his escape when his uncle recommends him for an opening in the messenger business during a card game with a local businessman. Carnegie gets the job by responding to the question “When can you start..?” by saying he bloody well right now if wanted to! The interviewer promptly called another messenger boy to show him the ropes and Carnegie get his start. One of Carnegie's great lessons is here – when there is an opportunity, get there first and stay to the end to make sure no other competitor comes in after you with better terms! A side benefit of this job is that he is introduced to all the owners of local businesses while delivering messages.
Around this time, a local colonel opens his private home library for kids to borrow books. This was a great opportunity for a youngster in this time period. Later in his life, his great philanthropic library campaign can be traced back to this. A library was a way to learn, to improve yourself – but only benefitted those who took the effort – a donated library was not giving a man anything without them matching the effort (Perhaps much can be learned from this idea of public aid – pursue aid where those being benefitted have to shoulder some of the effort). So much of the opportunities then for Carnegie came from just getting information others haven't got.
I wanted to leave this early story with a quote from Carnegie, I thought appropriate for these days:
“Most of the troubles of humanity are imaginary and should be laughed out of court. It is folly to cross a bridge until you come to it, or to bid the Devil good-morning until you meet him – perfect folly. All is well until the stroke falls, and even then nine times out of ten it is not so bad as anticipated. A wise man is the confirmed optimist.”
Have a nice weekend everyone,
The next segment I want to write will be Part II – How Carnegie got into the railroad business...