He watched the telegraph operators and taught himself Morse code. He learned to decipher the code from the clicking of the telegraph, without reading the tape printer. No one else in Pittsburgh could do that. He impressed a local railroad owner, and became his assistant at seventeen. He learned about capitalmoneyand how to use it to get businesses started. He learned to invest money and put it to work. By the time he was thirty-three, he was rich. Then he made a major life decision: he would work for money for two more years; then he would work to help others. He promised this to himself in a written note, adding, "No idol is more debasing than the worship of money."
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."