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My Essay On How Andrew Carnegie Was A Robber Baron

by LZPianoGirl

The Men Who Built America: Andrew Carnegie


Although he provided the material to build most of America’s first skyscrapers, not many people recognize his name. Originally from Scotland, Andrew Carnegie became one of the richest men in America through his steel business, Carnegie Steel Company. Even though he claimed to support workers’ rights, Carnegie was anti-union and provided poor working conditions for his employees. While Carnegie donated the majority of his wealth at his death, this did not change the public's perception of him. Andrew Carnegie, a robber baron of the 19th century, was a corrupt businessman who worked his employees to the bone in an effort to become the richest man in America.

Carnegie’s Early Life

Andrew Carnegie was born on November 25, 1835, in Dunfermline, Scotland. He spent the first year of his life in a weaver’s cottage which only had one room. At age two, Carnegie’s family moved to a larger house. The Carnegie family immigrated to the United States and settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when he was 12. After immigrating, Carnegie and his father were both offered a job at Anchor Cotton Mills, earning $1.20 a week ($35 in today's money). Due to conditions at the mill, Carnegie’s father’s health declined, leaving his son to be the family’s sole breadwinner. At age 16, Carnegie was hired by the Ohio Telegraph Company and earned $2.50 per week ($77). He was a hard worker and the company promoted him to operator within a year. At age 18, Thomas Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company hired Carnegie as his personal secretary. Scott became a role model and mentor to Carnegie, guiding Carnegie’s later business decisions until Scott’s death. Carnegie was promoted to Superintendent of the Western Division of the Pennsylvania railroad at the age of 24. This increased Carnegie’s salary by nearly 350%.

Carnegie’s newfound access to money and his personal connection to Scott allowed him to become an early investor in many American companies. In 1864, at the age of 29, Carnegie was one of the first investors in the Columbia Oil Company, which yielded over one million dollars in cash dividends to its investors. Carnegie worked with others in establishing a steel rolling mill, and steel production became the main source for his wealth. In 1884, Carnegie married Louise Whitfield, who was 21 years his junior. Eleven years later, they had their only child, Margaret. Carnegie died at age 83 on August 11, 1919 in Lenox, Massachusetts.

The Rise of Carnegie Steel Company

Carnegie acquired his fortune through the steel business, controlling most of the steel mills in the United States. In 1870, Carnegie co-founded his first steel business outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1892, Carnegie created Carnegie Steel Company. Carnegie owned other companies including Lucy Furnaces, The Union Mill, and Keystone Bridge Works. Through his ownership of these companies, Carnegie used vertical integration to control every aspect of the steel business--from the production of the raw materials at the mills, to distribution of steel, to the transportation networks, and finally, the actual building projects. Carnegie, through Keystone, provided much of the steel for the Eads Bridge, which spanned the Mississippi River at St. Louis, Missouri. Carnegie Steel Company also produced steel for railroads and the new “skyscrapers” that were taking over America’s skylines. In addition to vertical integration, another one of Carnegie’s greatest innovations was the cheap mass production of steel.

In 1901, Carnegie was 66 and considering retirement. J.P Morgan, America’s most prominent banker, was a friend of Carnegie and was impressed with the steel empire he created. Morgan thought that if he owned the Carnegie Steel Company, he could cut costs, lower prices, produce steel in greater numbers, and raise wages for workers. On March 2, 1901, Morgan purchased Carnegie Steel Company from Carnegie for nearly $500 million and renamed it U.S Steel Corporation. After retiring from U.S. Steel, Carnegie and J.D Rockefeller, owner of Standard Oil, competed to see who could donate the most money to charity. Carnegie donated over $350 million of his wealth to libraries and institutions of higher learning, but died thirteen years before Rockefeller, losing the competition. While these donations did not change the opinion of many of his former steelworkers, some historians consider him a philanthropist.

Carnegie the Robber Baron

The men of the 19th and 20th centuries are considered one of two things. The first is a captain of industry, which means a business leader whose personal wealth contributed positively to the country. The second is a robber baron. A robber baron is a businessman who has become rich through ruthless and cruel business practices, like Carnegie. Carnegie is a robber baron for multiple reasons. Although not the most infamous of robber barons, Carnegie was notorious for being anti-union and treating his employees poorly. The life of a Carnegie Steel Company worker was grueling. Carnegie’s employees often slaved away in unsafe and filthy conditions. Moreover, he forced employees to work twelve-hour shifts, Monday through Saturday, and permitted few, if any, holidays. The demanding schedule drained the life out of employees as workers often did not eat or rest for more than ten minutes per day. Carnegie also made the ill-informed decision to hire Henry Frick as chairman of his company. Frick was a ruthless businessman whose only motivation was making profits. The company’s working conditions deteriorated even further under Frick. Steelworkers, already working long hours, now had to work Sundays under Frick. It was not unusual for July 4th to be the only holiday for Carnegie Steel Company employees. While Carnegie’s steel mills became more efficient and profitable under Frick, it came at a heavy human cost. Conditions deteriorated to a point in 1892 when Carnegie steelworkers went on strike at the Homestead plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania. Carnegie and Frick called in Pinkerton police to break up the strikers but their involvement only led to the death of multiple workers and Pinkerton agents.


A robber baron of his time, Carnegie gained a personal fortune due to the back-breaking labor of his steel mill workers. Although he contributed to the building of America’s early bridges and skyscrapers, his accomplishments came at great costs to his employees, who toiled long hours in poor conditions. In his journey to becoming a captain of American industry, Carnegie earned a reputation as a leader with little empathy for his workers. Although Carnegie attempted to salvage his reputation with millions in charitable donations, his late in life gesture did not change his reputation as a ruthless 19th century businessman.

1094 Words

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Mon Mar 02, 2020 4:47 pm
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BluesClues wrote a review...

Hey LZ!

First thing: I agree with @niteowl that you could cut down on the section about Carnegie's life, especially since the section is titled "Early Life" but his marriage and death were later in life.

re: Sources, I know you said you had a bibliography you just didn't include, but don't you have to cite the sources in the paper itself? Like, "Conditions deteriorated to a point in 1892 when Carnegie steelworkers went on strike at the Homestead plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania (Author, p.#)." Or it might look different, depending on what style book you're using.

(Actually, history usually uses Chicago style, in which case you'd have footnotes, so maybe you do and we just don't see them here!)

I'm not sure what your teacher is asking for; that's just typically a requirement of using sources, so I wanted to draw attention to it just in case.

Back to the content of the paper. You've got a good, clear thesis, so that helped me keep track of what your argument was. It also makes it easier for me to offer a critique!

Since your main point is that Carnegie was a robber baron, not a captain of industry (tbh I think most "captains of industry" were/are robber barons, but that's neither here nor there), I'd like to see that drawn out more. Here are some thoughts I had that might lengthen the "Carnegie the Robber Baron" section, since this is where you really dig into your main point:

1) In reference to Carnegie's donations, two points. The first is that you mention that Carnegie donates so much money because he was in competition with J.D. Rockefeller, so you could mention the fact that, evidently, he donated to win a contest/prove he had more money to throw away rather than out of any sort of philanthropic spirit. The second is that I'm wondering how much money Carnegie had: for example, it *sounds* impressive when Jeff Bezos donates hundreds of millions of dollars, but he's worth $116 billion. So when he donates $350 million, that's only 0.3% of his total wealth. People act like he's giving away his livelihood, but...he's not. So I'm curious as to whether Carnegie's $350 million was a substantial portion of his wealth or actually a very small percentage - if you can find that out, and if it's a small percentage, that could also show how he's not really much of a philanthropist.

2) Even if Carnegie donated millions that benefited charities that presumably helped the working class (on that note, do we know *what* charities he donated to? was he helped the average American, or was he having more concert halls built?), you know what would have really benefited the working class? Him treating his employees well and supporting unions.

3) You mentioned that Carnegie grew up working class and that his father suffered from the same sort of working conditions that his employees later worked under. This could also potentially be drawn out to show how Carnegie was a robber baron - even though he'd seen first-hand what kinds of horrible lives the working class led, he was so motivated by profits that it didn't matter to him (or at least we have no proof that it mattered to him) that he treated his employees similarly to how his father was treated! So that could also potentially strengthen your argument.

Finally, there may be more, but I noticed one misplaced modifier:

At age 18, Thomas Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company hired Carnegie as his personal secretary.

The way this is worded currently, it sounds like Thomas Scott hired Carnegie when Thomas Scott was 18. Better wording would be something like this:

When Carnegie was 18, Thomas Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company hired him [or "Carnegie"] as his personal secretary.

I hope this helps! I haven't been reviewing much lately because I haven't had time or energy and I've had other projects to work on...but I kind of like reviewing essays.


LZPianoGirl says...

Thanks for the review! We use MLA formatting for bibliographies and such, so I don't think there are footnotes. As for mentioning the sources, our English teacher doesn't require us to do them. Basically, we don't use footnotes and cite the sources in the essay. I guess I will in highschool, but as for now, it is not a requirement. Thanks again!

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Mon Mar 02, 2020 3:26 pm
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niteowl wrote a review...

Hi there LZPianoGirl! Niteowl here to leave a quick review.

So I'm assuming this is a school assignment, since I also had to write a paper in middle school about whether the "captains of industry" were robber barons. What I like about this is that there's a lot of good detail, especially about the rise of his steel company and how he treated his workers poorly.

Although he provided the material to build most of America’s first skyscrapers, not many people recognize his name.

In my opinion, this is a half truth. Most people know the name of Carnegie Hall, Carnegie-Mellon University, and other things named after him. However, it's probably also true that people don't know who Andrew Carnegie was or who he did. This is probably true of other captains of industry like Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan. Otherwise, your intro is pretty good and sets up your central point that Carnegie was a robber baron.

The early life section is good and builds up how he worked his way up to being able to invest in steel and gain his wealth. However, the details about his later life, marriage and death don't seem to make sense here. They could even be omitted entirely.

One thing I think this essay could benefit from is sources. I'm not sure where this information came from, so if your teacher requires a bibliography and in-line citations, you should probably add those in. If you have any direct quotes from him about how he viewed his employees, that would strengthen your argument. You might also include quotes from historians that have contradicting views of his legacy or anything written about him in papers of the time.

Overall, I like the details of this essay and I think you have a good argument that Carnegie is indeed a robber baron despite his philanthropy. Some citations and sources could make it even better. Keep writing! :D

LZPianoGirl says...

Thanks for the review! I do have a bibliography, but it was six sources long, so I didn't want to add it on here. I also see how the few sentences about his marriage and death can be deleted. Thanks again!

Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.
— Plato