Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie's grandfather had been the first to establish a small lending library in Carnegie's native Dunfermline, Scotland, at a time when there were no public libraries. As humble linen weavers, his family were far from well off, but the love and respect for book knowledge made a permanent mark on young Andrew. Later, when he was rich, Carnegie's massive endowment of libraries were the obvious choice for his largesse.
Though not very well educated himself, Carnegie appreciated the value of an open mind. Like Benjamin Franklin, he knew that 'leaders are readers' and that wealth was created from deeper knowledge and better thinking. When his first donated library came to be built, he was asked for his coat of arms to put above the entrance. He didn't have one. Instead, he asked for a plaque with portraying the sun and its rays and the words 'Let there be light'.
The Carnegie story in brief
Born in 1835, Carnegie enjoyed his childhood in the bosom of an extended family. His father moved the family to the United States when he was in his early teens, but his accent and love of all things Scottish never left him.
In Pittsburgh he obtained employment as a telegraphist and as a railway clerk, and made his way up through the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. When the Civil War erupted, he was asked to take charge of US government railways and telegraphs, which he did with distinction. He was a republican and opposed slavery, and this was his great opportunity to serve the cause.
In addition to a huge capacity for work and a way with people, Carnegie chose his vocation well. America's railroad system was in rapid expansion, and he comments that "a manufacturing concern such as ours could scarcely develop fast enough for the wants of the American people".
Upon selling the largest iron and steel works in the United States, he became the richest person in the world. He spent his retirement years at his beloved Skibo castle in Scotland, and died in Lenox, Massachusetts in 1919.
His will left over $70 million for the building of public libraries throughout the US and Britain, and provided large gifts to universities. The peace-loving Carnegie was saddened by the outbreak of WW1, and also endowed institutions that would promote peace and research the causes of war.
From the Autobiography: Carnegie's tips for work and life success
Invest in yourself
Carnegie disliked speculation in stocks. He thought it a much better investment to choose an industry, learn everything about it and invest in your own business: "I believe the true road to preeminent success in any line is to make yourself master in that line. I have no faith in the policy of scattering one's resources, and in my experience I have rarely if ever met a man who achieved prominence in money-making who was interested in many concerns."
This is the power of focus, of sacrificing what you might gain by broadening in order to gain a smaller but well-defined market.
...but spread the risk
Because of his great success at so young an age, Carnegie developed the reputation in business of being fearless and reckless. This image, he says, could not have been further from the truth. In fact he never risked his own capital or that of his partners to any great degree: "When I did big things, some large corporation like the Pennsylvania Railroad Company was behind me and the responsible party."
You don't have to risk everything to think and act big. Carnegie's lesson is to get another party to carry the risk and use their reputation to assist your enterprise.
Success comes from openness and treating people well
Carnegie sought to create transparency in the management of all his plants. He kept them very well ordered and clean and welcomed government inspectors. He always sought good relations with labor, and generally gave employees what they wanted within reason. The famous Homestead plant strike in which several men died occurred while he was away in Scotland, and it is unlikely it would have happened if he had been there.
He made many of his staff rich. Plant manager Charles Schwab was the first person in American to be paid $1 million a year. In Napoleon Hill's Think And Grow Rich, Hill notes that this huge sum was not for Schwab's technical expertise, but for his superb ability to motivate. Like all great successes, Carnegie was a student of human nature and knew that the effective channeling of a workforce's energies was the mark of a true leader. He noted: "I did not understand steam machinery, but I tried to understand that much more complicated mechanism - man."
Be master of your mood
"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."
Read these two lines again. Carnegie's simple statement encapsulates hundreds of self-help and success books.
Public speaking is just speaking
"My two rules for speaking then (and now) were: Make yourself perfectly at home before your audience, and simply talk to them, not at them. Do not try to be somebody else; be your own self and talk, never 'orate' until you can't help it."
Remember Carnegie's advice and you won't have to take any expensive courses. It should be added that in order to 'be your self' you have to have spent time working out who you are and what you stand for. Oration suggests stating the world as you would like it to be. Speaking comes from the heart, which is always true.
Enlarge your circle
Carnegie's friends included Judge Mellon, Matthew Arnold, James Blaine, William Gladstone, President Harrison, Mark Twain and Herbert Spencer. These relationships were not cultivated so he could name-drop, but so he could learn direct from their unique knowledge and experience. Always seek out the interesting people.
Seek knowledge and value, not money alone
One evening in 1868, aged 33, Carnegie wrote a memorandum to himself while living in the St Nicholas Hotel, New York. He begins the memo with "Thirty three and an income of $50,000 per annum!" and then states that he could organize his business affairs so as to bring in the same sum annually, while spending the surplus on 'benevolent purposes'. Getting more philosophical, he writes of his intention to retire at 35 and henceforth devote his life to reading and study. Of course, he did no such thing, but in these words you have the seeds of his later philanthrophy. Knowledge gained from reading and study represented real value; a good life was one that truly opened the mind. Money alone was worthless.
Travel to broaden your mind
Carnegie loved travel, particularly when it had an element of adventure, and urged others to see more of the world. His book An American Four in Hand in Britain chronicled a journey on horse and cart the length of Britain. In his travels he tried to learn deeply of the cultures he encountered, while in China reading Confucius and in India the thoughts of Buddha and Zoroaster. Such respect for all religions was characteristic of his open mindedness, and also of his belief that seeing new places gave you a greater appreciation of the whole.
In its modest tone, the book reminds you of Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, and like Franklin's amazes in the story of what a person from very average beginnings can achieve in one lifetime. The reader almost tires of how Carnegie details the people who helped him and became his mentors, and he speaks with great fondness of his childhood. He was, incidentally, devastated when his mother and brother, both of whom had been instrumental in his success, died of typhoid fever, but his late and happy marriage gave him a fresh lease on life.
Carnegie's massive endowment of libraries was one of history's great acts, and his name is now more closely identified with the money he gave away rather than that which he made. His story suggests that the amassing of wealth by a single individual, if that person has high motives, is one of the best ways to change the world for the better.
"My advice to young men would be not only to concentrate their whole time and attention on the one business in life in which they engage, but to put every dollar of their capital into it. As for myself my decision was taken early. I would concentrate upon the manufacture of iron and steel and be master in that."
"No kind action is ever lost. Even to this day I occasionally meet men who I had forgotten, who recall some trifling attention I have been able to pay them, especially when in charge at Washington of government railways and telegraphs during the Civil War, when I could pass people within the lines - a father helped to reach a wounded or sick son at the front, or enabled to bring home his remains, or some similar service. I am indebted to these trifles for some of the happiest attentions and the most pleasing incidents of my life."
© COPYRIGHT TOM BUTLER-BOWDON, 2023
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.