Meet Andrew Carnegie: From Scotland to America
Hard times and politics drove the Carnegie family from Scotland in 1848. Will Carnegie, young Andrew's father, was a weaver in Dunfermline, an ancient town fallen on hard times. For centuries, Dunfermline had taken pride in being Scotland's medieval capital. By the 1840s, however, the royal castle lay in ruins, as did the town's once-booming linen industry, which had long enjoyed a reputation for producing the finest damask linens in Great Britain.
Dunfermline weavers struggling to feed their families put their faith in a political panacea called Chartism, a popular movement of the British working class. The Chartists believed that by allowing the masses to vote and to run for Parliament, they could seize government from the landed gentry and make conditions better for the working man.
Carnegie's father Will and his uncle Tom Morrison led the Chartist movement in Dunfermline. In 1842, Tom organized a national general strike. Will meanwhile published letters in various radical magazines and was president of one of the local weavers' societies, which were conspicuous platforms for the Chartists.
Despite the enthusiasm of the Dunfermline Chartists, Chartism fizzled out in 1848, after Parliament rejected the Chartists' demands for the final time. The Carnegies, however, had heard encouraging reports from America. "This country's far better for the working man than the old one," assured Andrew's aunt, who had lived in America for the last eight years. Anything would be better than what they had now.
The Carnegies auctioned all their belongings only to find that they still didn't have enough money to take the entire family on the voyage. They managed to borrow the last of the money and found room on a small sailing ship, the Wiscasset. At the harbor in Glasgow, they and the rest of the human cargo were assigned tightly squeezed bunks in the hold. It would be a fifty-day trip-with no privacy and miserable food.
The Carnegies, like many emigrants that year, discovered their ship's crew undermanned; they and the others were frequently asked to pitch in. Many were not much help; half the passengers lay sick in their bunks, the roll of the sea too much. It was grueling. But there was always hope. The passengers traded stories about the lives they would find in the New World.
Finally, New York City came into sight. The ships sailed past the plush farmland and forests of the Bronx, dropping anchor off Castle Garden at the lower end of Manhattan. It was still seven years before New York would build an immigration station there and nearly half a century before Ellis Island would open. The Carnegies disembarked, disoriented by the activity of the city but anxious to continue on to the final destination-Pittsburgh.
The Carnegies booked passage on a steamer up the Hudson to Albany, where they found a number of jostling agents eagerly competing to carry them west on the Erie Canal. At 35 miles per day, it was slow travel and not particularly pleasant. Their "quarters" were a narrow shelf in a hot, unventilated cabin. Finally, they reached Buffalo. From there, it was only three more trips by canal boat. After three weeks travel from New York, they finally arrived in Pittsburgh, the place where Andrew would build his fortune.
Next: Welcome to Pittsburgh