Andrew Carnegie and the Steel Industry
Frameworks for America's Past
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Andrew Carnegie:
The steel industry

   Andrew Carnegie's family came to the U.S. from Scotland in 1848.  Times were hard in Scotland at that time.  His father hoped there would be a better life in America.

   Andrew was only
13 when the family arrived in Pennsylvania.  He went right to work in a textile (cloth making) factory.  He was a "bobbin boy," changing spools of thread in the weaving machines 12 hours a day, six days a week. 

   By the time Andrew was 40 years old, he was a pioneer in building the steel industry in America.  When he retired, he was one of he richest men in the world.  Then he gave most of his money away to help others have a chance to succeed.

Carnegie saw the future of steel

   As the Civil War ended in 1865, Carnegie saw that steel would be needed by America's rapidly growing railroads and industry.  Steel is stronger and harder than ordinary iron.

   Factories used steel for machines and tools.  Bridges and railroad rails are much stronger if they are made of steel rather than iron.  The drawing shows a railroad bridge over the Ohio River at Louisville, Kentucky.

A better way to make steel

Carnegie learned about a new process of mass-producing steel that was invented in England.  It was called the Bessemer Converter, or blast furnace.  Steel is made from iron by burning away most of the excess carbon found in ordinary iron.

   Carnegie convinced a group of investors in the 1870s to join him in building a large steel mill just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The newspaper drawing shows blast furnaces of the type used in the new steel mill.

This was large scale production!

   The Carnegie Steel Company succeeded because Carnegie understood that steel making had to be done on a very large scale.  Large scale production made it possible to produce better steel at lower prices.  The photo below shows one of the company's steel mills near Pittsburgh as it looked in 1905.

Carnegie gave back

    As his success in the steel industry grew, Carnegie decided to become a philanthropist.  That is a fancy term for a wealthy person who uses their money to support good causes.
   Carnegie offered to help cities all over the country build free public libraries.  He wanted everyone, including ordinary working families, to have access to books and knowledge that could help them get ahead in life.

Andrew Carnegie gave over
$60 million dollars to build:

  • Over 1,600 libraries in the U.S.
  • Over 700 libraries in Britain, Ireland, and Canada
   The photo shows Carnegie and his wife, Louise, some years after he retired from the steel business.

The Carnegie library in Pittsburgh

   The photo below from around 1900 shows the children's reading room in a library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The library was built with Carnegie's donations. 

Carnegie continued his work as a philanthropist until his death in 1919.  He and his wife donated a total of over $350 million dollars to good causes including education, science research, and the arts.

All photos and images are from the Library of Congress. 
Some have been edited or resized for this page.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright 2009, 2012 by David Burns.  All rights reserved.  As a guide to the Virginia Standards of Learning, some pages necessarily include phrases or sentences from that document, which is available online from the Virginia Department of Education.  The author's copyright extends to the original text and graphics, unique design and layout, and related material.