Webisode 9. Segment 3
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.
Two years later, he must have forgotten that noteor maybe the lure of money was too strong. He kept working hard and getting richer and richer. He got into the steel business. His company was very profitable; it used the best machinery and kept wages low. Life for his workers was awful. The writer Hamlin Garland visited a steel town and observed: "The streets were horrible; the buildings poor; the sidewalks full of holes. Everywhere the yellow mud of the streets lay kneaded into sticky masses through which groups of pale, lean men slouched in faded garments."
When Carnegie cut salaries at the Homestead steel mill, in Pennsylvania, the workers went on strike . Carnegie's manager, Henry Clay Frick , refused to talk to the strikers ; instead he sent in Pinkerton detectivesmen with guns. They used their guns . Twenty strikers were killed . So were four detectives . While this was going on, Andrew Carnegie was vacationing in Scotland. Had he forgotten his origins? If you saw the way he lived you would say yes. He owned a castle in Scotland and houses in America that seemed like palaces. And he justified his immense riches with ideas like these: "The millionaires are the bees that make the most honey, and contribute most to the hive even after they have gorged themselves."
But when the most successful banker in America, J. Pierpont Morgan, offered to buy Carnegie out, he finally decided to change his way of life. It was 1901, nine years after the Homestead strike, and Carnegie was sixty-six. The sale would make him one of the richest men in the world. Maybe he remembered the note he wrote at thirty-three. He sold his business interests and began a new careergiving away his money.
Carnegie now said that millionaires had a duty to distribute their wealth while they were still alive . "The man who dies rich dies disgraced," he said. He began by building libraries in towns all across the country3,000 of them, costing nearly $60 million . He gave money to colleges and schools and artists and writers. And he founded three institutesone to promote peace, one to improve teaching, and one to try to make the world better through science. One day he asked his assistant how much he had given away. It was $324,657,399. Carnegie gasped when he heard the number. "Good heavens! Where did I ever get all that money?" he said.
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