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America 1900 | Article

Notable People: Developers, Business People and Industrialists

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Andrew Carnegie Preaches the Gospel of Wealth 
Andrew Carnegie, having already amassed millions as an extraordinarily successful industrialist, turned his attention in 1900 to matters of politics and philanthropy. Carnegie was part of a small but highly vocal group who opposed what they saw as a growing impulse toward imperialism in US foreign policy, especially in the case of the US's war agaist the Filipinos. Carnegie taunted the advocates of President William McKinley's war policy by asking, "Is it possible that the American Republic is to be placed in the position of the suppressor of the Philippine struggle for independence?" He then went so far as to offer to buy the island nation from the US for $20 million in order to grant its citizens complete independence. His offer was refused. 

Carnegie's proclaimed regard for the betterment of man may have struck those familiar with his dealings with his own employees as rather out of character. As the founder of Carnegie Steel Company, the Scottish native displayed a brilliance in business affairs and little regard for the concerns of those who worked for him. When workers at his Homestead Steel Works went out on strike in 1892, a violent confrontation with company-hired thugs ensued. Carnegie, out of the country at the time of the strike, did nothing to stem the violence and never recognized the legitimacy of labor unions. 

By the turn of the century, however, Carnegie was out of the steel business. He sold Carnegie Steel to J.P. Morgan and turned his full attention to philanthropy. In all he gave away 350 million dollars. In 1900 he published a collection of his writings entitled, "The Gospel of Wealth." Among the musings to be found in that collection was his opinion that "the man who dies rich, dies disgraced." 

Maggie Lena Walker 
Maggie Lena Walker (c. 1867-1934) was born in Richmond, Virginia, where she attended public schools and later, the state Normal School. She worked as a teacher until her marriage (married women were prohibited by law from teaching), then turned her energies to the promotion of black businesses and employment, especially for black women, via Richmond's mutual aid societies, which provided life insurance services and career assistance to members. The central organization, the Independent Order of St. Luke, elected Walker to the position of executive head of the organization in 1899. She increased the Order's income and gained the organization a presence in 22 states. Walker used the new funds and clout of St. Luke to launch a development plan for the creation of a newspaper, a bank, and a store. When the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank opened in 1903, Walker became the first woman bank president in the US. The bank later merged with two others to become Richmond's only black bank, and has operated continuously up to the present day.

J.P. Morgan 
John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) began his career in 1857 as an accountant, and worked for several New York banking firms until he became a partner in Drexel, Morgan and Company in 1871, which was reorganized as J.P. Morgan and Company in 1895. Described as a coldly rational man, Morgan began reorganizing railroads in 1885, becoming a board member and gaining control of large amounts of stock of many of the rail companies he helped restructure. In 1896, Morgan embarked on consolidations in the electric, steel (creating U.S. Steel, the world's first billion-dollar corporation, in 1901), and agricultural equipment manufacturing industries. By the early 1900s, Morgan was the main force behind the Trusts, controlling virtually all the basic American industries. He then looked to the financial and insurance industries, in which his banking firm also achieved a concentration of control. Morgan was also among the foremost collectors of art and books of his day; his book collection and the building that housed it in New York City are now The Pierpont Morgan Library. 

Elijah McCoy 
As a young man, Elijah McCoy (1843-1929)--who had been born in a community of escaped slaves in Canada--sought a position with the Michigan Central Railroad. Despite the engineering training he had received during an apprenticeship in Scotland, the only job open to McCoy was that of locomotive fireman/oilman. In this position, McCoy observed first-hand the problems that locomotives had with overheating caused by friction, and in 1872, he designed and patented a device to improve their function. The McCoy Graphite Lubricator oiled moving parts while a train was in operation; trains no longer had to stop for re-oiling and suffered fewer breakdowns caused by overheating. Many other inventors tried their hand at designing lubrication devices, but McCoy's was the most successful. This is probably the origin of the expression, "the real McCoy." McCoy was one of the most prolific 19th century African American inventors. He formed his own company and invented, patented, and sold 57 devices and machine parts during his lifetime. In 1900, the US Patent Office found that more than 400 African Americans had received patents (and many more black inventors had applied for them).

Mark Hanna
Mark Hanna (1837-1904) was a Cleveland industrialist who made his fortune in coal and iron. Convinced that the welfare of big business depended on the success of the Republican Party, in the 1880s Hanna began to organize financial support for promising Republican candidates. He helped William McKinley win the Ohio governor's race in 1892 and saw him nominated as the Republican presidential candidate in 1896. Hanna raised an election fund for McKinley from wealthy individuals and corporations and orchestrated the most expensive campaign ever seen at that time, undermining opponent William Jennings Bryan's grassroots campaign with hired orators and a flood of literature, all promising continued prosperity under McKinley. After McKinley won the presidency, one of his cabinet appointments created a vacancy in the U.S. Senate to which Hanna was elected in 1897. Theodore Roosevelt feared that Hanna might oppose him for the Republican presidential nomination in 1904, but Hanna died suddenly in the early part of that year. 

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