Andrew Carnegie helped build the formidable American steel industry, a process that turned a poor young man into one of the richest entrepreneurs of his age. Later in his life, Carnegie sold his steel business and systematically gave his collected fortune away to cultural, educational and scientific institutions for "the improvement of mankind."
Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, the medieval capital of Scotland, in 1835.
Carnegie was unusual among the industrial captains of his day because he preached for the rights of laborers to unionize and to protect their jobs. However, Carnegie's actions did not always match his rhetoric. Carnegie's steel workers were often pushed to long hours and low wages. In the Homestead Strike of 1892, Carnegie threw his support behind plant manager Henry Frick, who locked out workers and hired Pinkerton thugs to intimidate strikers. Many were killed in the conflict, and it was an episode that would forever hurt Carnegie's reputation.
Still, Carnegie's steel juggernaut was unstoppable, and by 1900 Carnegie Steel produced more of the metal than all of Great Britain. That was also the year that financier J. P. Morgan mounted a major challenge to Carnegie's steel empire. While Carnegie believed he could beat Morgan in a battle lasting five, 10 or 15 years, the fight did not appeal to the 64-year old man eager to spend more time with his wife Louise, whom he had married in 1886, and their daughter, Margaret.
Carnegie wrote the asking price for his steel business on a piece of paper and had one of his managers deliver the offer to Morgan. Morgan accepted without hesitation, buying the company for $480 million.
He spent much of his collected fortune on establishing over 2,500 public libraries as well as supporting institutions of higher learning. By the time Carnegie's life was over, he gave away 350 million dollars.