Andrew Carnegie: The man who left Scotland – and shaped America

The rapidly developing industrial economy of Scotland at the time was bleak for this family and countless Scots. Against this backdrop of trials, the young but resilient family sold most of their modest possessions to fund a brave journey to America and escape the grip of abject poverty.

‘Wiscasset’ was an apt name given the uncertain future the family faced when they left Scotland in 1848. They boarded with concern, courage, hope and a committed love for one another. The anchors were lifted and the large ship gradually left Glasgow’s Broomielaw and set out on the arduous Atlantic crossing. Parents’ names were Margaret and Will and their sons were Andrew and Tom. Her proud last name was Carnegie.

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After the harrowing journey that spanned weeks, the Carnegies arrived in New York City. This long journey was the journey of many immigrants in this period and in the eras to come. The late 1840s saw a significant increase in Irish, German and Italian immigrants to New York, who, like the Carnegies, were fleeing poverty and social instability.

What soon unfolded for so many immigrants was another storm that threatened to snuff out the flame of their hope. They lived in slums, where unhealthy conditions led to rampant disease and working conditions cast a shadow over their optimism.

Still, the city was full of energy. These brave immigrants felt that power. They persevered, searching deep within themselves, using their talents and honoring their heritage. The result was that with their brave hands they created a way of life – an enduring sculpture of strength for generations to admire.

When Andrew Carnegie first arrived in New York he was still a boy, but he was aware of everything around him. He later wrote that this first impression of New York gave him an overwhelming excitement. This power of this place created a dynamic in the impressive Andrew that drove him throughout his life.

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After a brief stint in New York, the Carnegie family moved to Allegheny, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. Andrew and his father found work in a cotton mill owned by Scots. Andrew’s first job there was as a “bobbin boy”. It was exhausting work. He worked 12 hours a day for $1.20 a week.

Of course, Andrew Carnegie became one of the wealthiest industrialists in American history.

The stories of his early days of family difficulties in Scotland and his love for his homeland stuck in his mind. As an older man he would have closed his eyes and clearly remembered the day in Glasgow when his family boarded the ship. The obstacles, injustices and opportunities of those early days as an immigrant also shaped him profoundly.

Carnegie was morally enthusiastic about what he called “The Gospel of Wealth.” One of his richest legacies and gifts, and that of the Carnegie family, is the positive influence bestowed on countless lives.

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He embodied the principle of giving something back. In fact, he and his family have been philanthropic pioneers in helping those in need, advancing the arts, building global understanding, and driving innovation to improve lives. That Carnegie flame burns brightly today. Founded in 1911 by Andrew Carnegie himself, the Carnegie Corporation of New York is a remarkably enlightened institution.

Carnegie Corporation’s programmatic impact spans numerous initiatives around the world—diverse programs that advance thought, inquiry, understanding and peace.

The 13th President of Carnegie Corporation, Dr. Louise Richardson is a person who embodies these values. dr An Irish immigrant herself, Richardson also knows Scotland well, having served a landmark tenure as Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews. The staff are also some of the most passionate, considerate and knowledgeable people you will meet.

We will not achieve the financial wealth of Andrew Carnegie. However, he wants to encourage us all to remember that the greatest wealth that can be acquired in life has no monetary value. The richest heart is the one that is full of contentment and compassion.

And if our journey leads to discovering this inner wealth, we will be all the richer if we give much of it selflessly in the form of kindness and treat others with dignity.

Ian Houston has spent his career advocating diplomacy, trade, poverty alleviation and intercultural dialogue. It promotes commercial, educational, artistic and charitable links between Scotland, Great Britain and the USA. He is Honorary Professor at the University of the West of Scotland and Honorary Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen. He is located in the Washington, DC area. His views are his own.

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