Andrew Carnegie

date Aug 11, 2014
authors Andrew Carnegie
reading time 17 mins

I was curious how someone from a relatively disadvantaged background can become the richest man in the world.

Positive attitude in life

A sunny disposition is worth more than fortune. Young people should know that it can be cultivated; that the mind like the body can be moved from the shade into sunshine. Let us move it then. Laugh trouble away if possible, and one usually can if he be anything of a philosopher, provided that self-reproach comes not from his own wrongdoing.

Never cheat yourself

The judge within sits in the supreme court and can never be cheated. Hence the grand rule of life which Burns gives: “Thine own reproach alone do fear.” This motto adopted early in life has been more to me than all the sermons I ever heard,

Fall of a good business

The change from hand-loom to steam-loom weaving was disastrous to our family. My father did not recognize the impending revolution, and was struggling under the old system.


I remember that shortly after this I began to learn what poverty meant. Dreadful days came when my father took the last of his webs to the great manufacturer, and I saw my mother anxiously awaiting his return to know whether a new web was to be obtained or that a period of idleness was upon us.

Acquaintance with business in childhood

Soon after that the accounts of the various people who dealt with the shop were entrusted to my keeping so that I became acquainted, in a small way, with business affairs even in childhood.

War breeds war

This is something of a commentary upon the truth that war breeds war, that every battle sows the seeds of future battles, and that thus nations become traditional enemies.

From an immigrant to home

It was years before I could feel that the new land could be anything but a temporary abode.


I cannot name a more important means of benefiting young people than encouraging them to commit favorite pieces to memory and recite them often.

Taking poverty to its advantage

This is where the children of honest poverty have the most precious of all advantages over those of wealth. The mother, nurse, cook, governess, teacher, saint, all in one; the father, exemplar, guide, counselor, and friend! Thus were my brother and I brought up. What has the child of millionaire or nobleman that counts compared to such a heritage?

Firs job as a bobbin boy

In this factory he also obtained for me a position as bobbin boy, and my first work was done there at one dollar and twenty cents per week. It was a hard life.

Stepping stones of first job

it gave me the feeling that I was doing something for my world - our family. I have made millions since, but none of those millions gave me such happiness as my first week’s earnings. I was now a helper of the family, a breadwinner, and no longer a total charge upon my parents.

Being optimistic no matter what

But all this it was a matter of honor to conceal from my parents. They had their own troubles and bore them. I must play the man and bear mine. My hopes were high, and I looked every day for some change to take place. What it was to be I knew not, but that it would come I felt certain if I kept on.

Asking and taking the opportunity

He asked me how soon I could come, and I said that I could stay now if wanted. And, looking back over the circumstance, I think that answer might well be pondered by young men. It is a great mistake not to seize the opportunity. The position was offered to me; something might occur, some other boy might be sent for. Having got myself in I proposed to stay there if I could.

Next step

And that is how in 1850 I got my first real start in life. From the dark cellar running a steam-engine at two dollars a week, begrimed with coal dirt, without a trace of the elevating influences of life, I was lifted into paradise, yes, heaven, as it seemed to me, with newspapers, pens, pencils, and sunshine about me. There was scarcely a minute in which I could not learn something or find out how much there was to learn and how little I knew. I felt that my foot was upon the ladder and that I was bound to climb.

Networking even if you are just a messenger

My position as messenger boy soon made me acquainted with the few leading men of the city.

Making friendship

My life as a telegraph messenger was in every respect a happy one, and it was while in this position that I laid the foundation of my closest friendships.

Dark horse

It is not the rich man’s son that the young struggler for advancement has to fear in the race of life, nor his nephew, nor his cousin. Let him look out for the “dark horse” in the boy who begins by sweeping out the office.

The seniors in the industry will always pay it forward

I do not know a situation in which a boy is more apt to attract attention, which is all a really clever boy requires in order to rise. Wise men are always looking out for clever boys.

Read read read…

Books which it would have been impossible for me to obtain elsewhere were, by his wise generosity, placed within my reach; and to him I owe a taste for literature which I would not exchange for all the millions that were ever amassed by man. Life would be quite intolerable without it. Nothing contributed so much to keep my companions and myself clear of low fellowship and bad habits as the beneficence of the good

Public libraries as important institutions

It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it, as the founding of a public library in a community which is willing to support it as a municipal institution.

Virtues of reading among the youths

“As the twig is bent the tree’s inclined.” The treasures of the world which books contain were opened to me at the right moment. The fundamental advantage of a library is that it gives nothing for nothing. Youths must acquire knowledge themselves. There is no escape from this.

Put your knowledge to use

Whenever one learns to do anything he has never to wait long for an opportunity of putting his knowledge to use.

His dream of working in railroads

Deep cuts and embankments near Greensburg were then being made for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and I often walked out in the early morning to see the work going forward, little dreaming that I was so soon to enter the service of that great corporation.

Tight knit group

Another step which exercised a decided influence over me was joining the “Webster Literary Society” along with my companions, the trusty five already named. We formed a select circle and stuck closely together. This was quite an advantage for all of us.

Speaking rules

My two rules for speaking then (and now) were: Make yourself perfectly at home before your audience, and simply talk to them, not at them. Do not try to be somebody else; be your own self and talk, never “orate” until you can’t help it.

Surrounded by good people

I had just reached my eighteenth birthday, and I do not see how it could be possible for any boy to arrive at that age much freer from a knowledge of anything but what was pure and good. I do not believe, up to that time, I had ever spoken a bad word in my life and seldom heard one. I knew nothing of the base and the vile. Fortunately I had always been brought in contact with good people.

Only experience teaches the supreme force of gentleness. Light but certain punishment, when necessary, is most effective. Severe punishments are not needed and a judicious pardon, for the first offense at least, is often best of all.

Of Gods

“A forgiving God would be the noblest work of man.” We accepted as proven that each stage of civilization creates its own God, and that as man ascends and becomes better his conception of the Unknown likewise improves. Thereafter we all became less theological, but I am sure more truly religious.

Take the chance boldly even if you are not fully prepared

Mr. Scott asked me if I had five hundred dollars. If so, he said he wished to make an investment for me. Five hundred cents was much nearer my capital. I certainly had not fifty dollars saved for investment, but I was not going to miss the chance of becoming financially connected with my leader and great man. So I said boldly I thought I could manage that sum.

First investment

This was my first investment. In those good old days monthly dividends were more plentiful than now and Adams Express paid a monthly dividend. One morning a white envelope was lying upon my desk, addressed in a big John Hancock hand, to “Andrew Carnegie, Esquire.”

Recurring investments

The effect produced upon my companions was overwhelming. None of them had imagined such an investment possible. We resolved to save and to watch for the next opportunity for investment in which all of us should share, and for years afterward we divided our trifling investments and worked together almost as partners.


Also we would make nothing except of excellent quality. We always accommodated our customers, even although at some expense to ourselves, and in cases of dispute we gave the other party the benefit of the doubt and settled. These were our rules. We had no lawsuits.

Accounting and inventory is important

One of the chief sources of success in manufacturing is the introduction and strict maintenance of a perfect system of accounting so that responsibility for money or materials can be brought home to every man … Our strict system of accounting enabled us to detect the great waste possible in heating large masses of iron.

Full time investor

My investments now began to require so much of my personal attention that I resolved to leave the service of the railway company and devote myself exclusively to my own affairs.


He desired to promote me to the office of assistant general superintendent with headquarters at Altoona under Mr. Lewis. I declined, telling him that I had decided to give up the railroad service altogether, that I was determined to make a fortune and I saw no means of doing this honestly at any salary the railroad company could afford to give, and I would not do it by indirection.

Sounds like TED talks

Able men and women discussed the leading topics of the day in due form, addressing the audience one after another. The gatherings soon became too large for a private room.

Training as a public speaker

This was my introduction to a New York audience. Thereafter I spoke now and then. It was excellent training, for one had to read and study for each appearance.


True indeed; most of the troubles of humanity are imaginary and should be laughed out of court. It is folly to cross a bridge until you come to it, or to bid the Devil good-morning until you meet him—perfect folly. All is well until the stroke falls, and even then nine times out of ten it is not so bad as anticipated. A wise man is the confirmed optimist.


I had never before been cheated and found it out so positively and so clearly. I saw that I was still young and had a good deal to learn. Many men can be trusted, but a few need watching.

Building business on loans or modern-day funding

I had insisted that thousands of miles of railway lines could not be constructed by means of temporary loans.

Investment questions

The business man has no rock more dangerous to encounter in his career than this very one of endorsing commercial paper. It can easily be avoided if he asks himself two questions: Have I surplus means for all possible requirements which will enable me to pay without inconvenience the utmost sum for which I am liable under this endorsement? Secondly: Am I willing to lose this sum for the friend for whom I endorse? If these two questions can be answered in the affirmative he may be permitted to oblige his friend, but not otherwise, if he be a wise man.

Be focused even when there are other opportunities

My successes abroad brought me tempting opportunities, but my preference was always for manufacturing. I wished to make something tangible and sell it and I continued to invest my profits in extending the works at Pittsburgh.


I believe the true road to preëminent success in any line is to make yourself master in that line. I have no faith in the policy of scattering one’s resources, and in my experience I have rarely if ever met a man who achieved preëminence in money-making—certainly never one in manufacturing—who was interested in many concerns. The men who have succeeded are men who have chosen one line and stuck to it.


My advice to young men would be not only to concentrate their whole time and attention on the one business in life in which they engage, but to put every dollar of their capital into it. If there be any business that will not bear extension, the true policy is to invest the surplus in first-class securities which will yield a moderate but certain revenue if some other growing business cannot be found. As for myself my decision was taken early. I would concentrate upon the manufacture of iron and steel and be master in that.

Passing of different ages

I had not failed to notice the growth of the Bessemer process. If this proved successful I knew that iron was destined to give place to steel; that the Iron Age would pass away and the Steel Age take its place.


It was not our bills payable but our bills receivable which required attention, for we soon had to begin meeting both. Even our own banks had to beg us not to draw upon our balances.

Living simply

No one interested in our business had lived extravagantly. Our manner of life had been the very reverse of this. No money had been withdrawn from the business to build costly homes, and, above all, not one of us had made speculative ventures upon the stock exchange, or invested in any other enterprises than those connected with the main business. Neither had we exchanged endorsements with others. Besides this we could show a prosperous business that was making money every year.

Secrets and partners

There is one imperative rule for men in business—no secrets from partners.

Chaos to order through History

I began to view the various phases of human life from the standpoint of the evolutionist. In China I read Confucius; in India, Buddha and the sacred books of the Hindoos; among the Parsees, in Bombay, I studied Zoroaster. The result of my journey was to bring a certain mental peace. Where there had been chaos there was now order. My mind was at rest. I had a philosophy at last. The words of Christ “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” had a new meaning for me.

Every culture is equal in that sense

All the remnants of theology in which I had been born and bred, all the impressions that Swedenborg had made upon me, now ceased to influence me or to occupy my thoughts. I found that no nation had all the truth in the revelation it regards as divine, and no tribe is so low as to be left without some truth; that every people has had its great teacher; Buddha for one; Confucius for another; Zoroaster for a third; Christ for a fourth.

When you consider to be of the best religion

The world traveler who gives careful study to the bibles of the various religions of the East will be well repaid. The conclusion reached will be that the inhabitants of each country consider their own religion the best of all.

Every race has something to share

And what a pleasure it is to find that, instead of the Supreme Being confining revelation to one race or nation, every race has the message best adapted for it in its present stage of development. The Unknown Power has neglected none.

Hah! Yep, the best are not looking for jobs

The best men as men, and the best workmen, are not walking the streets looking for work. Only the inferior class as a rule is idle. The kind of men we desired are rarely allowed to lose their jobs, even in dull times. It is impossible to get new men to run successfully the complicated machinery of a modern steel plant.

A stool analogy of talent

The one sentence I remember, and always shall, was to the effect that capital, labor, and employer were a three-legged stool, none before or after the others, all equally indispensable.

Wealth distribution

It is now thirteen years since I ceased to accumulate wealth and began to distribute it. I could never have succeeded in either had I stopped with having enough to retire upon, but nothing to retire to. But there was the habit and the love of reading, writing and speaking upon occasion, and also the acquaintance and friendship of educated men which I had made before I gave up business.


Most quarrels become acute from the parties not seeing and communicating with each other and hearing too much of their disagreement from others. They do not fully understand the other’s point of view and all that can be said for it. Wise is he who offers the hand of reconciliation should a difference with a friend arise.