An Interesting Time
America has another problem in 1876. It has to do with poor people. The gap between rich and poor is getting wider and wider. Jobs are hard to find. In New York City in 1876, 900 people die of hunger . But while some starve, others have so much money they do nothing much but show it off. At Newport, Rhode Island, a grandson of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt lives in a sumptuous summerhouse he calls a "cottage." It has seventy rooms. At one of his parties, guests are given silver buckets and shovels to dig for rubies and diamonds in a sandbox set in the middle of the dining-room table. The writer Mark Twain calls this time of affluence "a Gilded Age." It is an age of extremes.
In Scotland the parents of a boy named Andrew Carnegie sang these words to him when he was little: "To the West, to the West, to the land of the free, where the might Missouri rolls down to the sea."
Carnegie would come to the United States and, all by himself, write a big chapter in the story of the Gilded Age. It was a rags-to-riches story about a man who began life as a poor immigrant and lived to control the lives of thousands of factory workers and laborers. It was about a man who became a multimillionaire, yet later gave away most of his riches.
Andrew Carnegie was born in a stone cottage in Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1835. His father was a weaver who worked at a hand loom. But when the Industrial Revolution came to Scotland, Andrew's father could find no work and the family headed for America. Andrew's first job was as a bobbin boy in a textile factory in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, when he was twelve years old. He worked from six in the morning to six at night for $1.20 a day. Then he heard that a messenger boy was needed at the new telegraph office in Pittsburgh. He got the job and set out to be the best messenger in town.