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How Andrew Carnegie succeeded within the face of failure

August
16, 2020

5 min read

The opinions expressed by the entrepreneur's contributors are their own.

When you think of successful entrepreneurs, Andrew Carnegie is probably not one of the first to spring to mind. While his name still marks some of New York City's most iconic landmarks, we don't think of him often as do today's mega-rich sports stars, tech innovators, and public figures.

But Carnegie's name has gone down as one of the most famous in the American economy. He was one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs of the 19th century, and his hard work and success set the tone for the company for years to come.

However, like many of the most successful people, Andrew Carnegie got where he was not without difficulty. Before becoming one of the richest men in the world (with a career high net worth of $ 310 billion, adjusted for inflation) and one of the most important philanthropists of his day, Andrew Carnegie faced tremendous struggles. Let's take a look at some of these struggles – and most importantly, how he overcame them.

An immigrant escaping poverty in Scotland

Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland on November 25, 1835. His family lived in a typical weaver house: there was only one main room (shared by the Carnegies and the neighboring weaver family) that served as a bedroom, living room and dining room.

Related: How Andrew Carnegie went from $ 1.20 a week to $ 309 billion … Then he gave it all away

Struggling to make ends meet during a major economic downturn, the Carnegies borrowed money from Andrew's uncle with whom they immigrated to the United States. While they hoped to find a more prosperous life, the Carnegies' plight in the United States continued when Andrew's father tried to sell his wares to uninterested dealers.

He never lost hope when he was making $ 1.20 a week

In 1848, Andrew Carnegie began his first job as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill. Here he worked twelve hours a day, six days a week, and earned a starting wage of $ 1.20 per week (about $ 39, adjusted for inflation).

In 1849, however, Carnegie's hard work began to pay off. He worked as a telegraph delivery man in the Ohio Telegraph Company's Pittsburgh office and proved to be a hard worker. Within a year he was promoted to operator.

He dodged the draft by hiring someone to take his place

In 1864, Andrew Carnegie was drafted into the US Civil War by the Army. Instead of serving, he paid another man $ 850 to report for service in his place.

While this may seem dishonest today, it was a common practice at the time. In fact, what Carnegie did was perfectly legal: the Conscription Act (passed by Congress the previous year) provided specific exemptions for those drafted on payment of a "commutation fee".

See Also: 11 Great Quotes About Money From Andrew Carnegie's & # 39; The Gospel of Wealth & # 39;

Had Andrew Carnegie reported the war, all of history might have been different, given that the steel industry played such an important role in developing the economy and infrastructure of the United States.

He risked his home to invest

While at the Ohio Telegraph Company, 14-year-old Andrew Carnegie caught the attention of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company Superintendent Thomas Scott. Carnegie quickly rose through the ranks of the company, eventually replacing Scott as superintendent of the Pittsburgh division.

Instead of being bitter, Scott decided to help Carnegie start his investment career. When Scott informed him of the impending sale of 10 shares in the Adams Express Company, Carnegie took no time to consider what to do. His mother Margaret risked everything they had and mortgaged their home in order to receive the $ 500 it needed to buy the stocks.

The bold move paid off: the dividends came in quickly and eventually helped Carnegie fund a number of other investments (including the Keystone Bridge Company and Union Iron Mills, to name a few). Thanks to his hard work, risk-taking spirit, and the success of his investments, Carnegie rose from $ 1.20 per week to $ 50,000 per year by the age of 30.

Carnegie used the funds from his investments to create the Carnegie Steel Company in 1892. Thanks to revolutionary methods of production (and the fact that he had everything he needed at every step of the production process), Carnegie was able to dominate the industry and gain its bulk. Almost a decade later, in 1901, he sold Carnegie Steel to banker John for $ 480 million Pierpont (JP) Morgan.

He believed in giving back to the world

In 1889 Carnegie published the essay "The Gospel of the Wealth" in the North American Review. In that work, he claimed that the rich "have a moral obligation to distribute (their money) in ways that promote the well-being and happiness of the common man". Should anyone have any doubts, Carnegie continued: "The man who dies so rich dies in disgrace."

At the time of his death, Carnegie had donated $ 445 million of his personal fortune of $ 475 million to charitable and philanthropic causes. He has helped fund more than 2,500 public libraries around the world and founded many trusts that have created many organizations that still exist today, including Carnegie Music Hall and Carnegie-Mellon University.

No matter what obstacle, you can overcome it

Carnegie's rags to riches embody the American dream. His dedication and hard work prove that no matter where you start in life, you can find success.

Related: A modernized version of Andrew Carnegie's "The Gospel of Wealth"

Not everyone becomes one of the richest people in the world or will go down in history for their contributions to society – and that's fine. It is important that you do not let disadvantage or hardship stop you from working as hard as possible on your goals. As with Andrew Carnegie, it is not your circumstances, but what you make of them that determine your path in life.

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