PBS' "American Experience" spends two hours tonight telling the story of a Scot who achieved what many viewed as the American dream: the rise from poverty to power and vast fortune as a captain of industry.
In 1900, when Andrew Carnegie sold his Carnegie Steel to J.P. Morgan for $480 million, Morgan called him "the richest man in the world."
Then Carnegie, who was fond of saying, "The man who dies rich dies disgraced," set about giving away $350 million in 10 years, establishing among other things, music halls, museums, swimming pools, gymnasiums and more than 3,000 libraries around the world. Carnegie had amassed his money through the labor of his steelworkers, who worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, for 14 cents an hour, and he may have felt a bit guilty. His biographer, Joseph Frazier Wall, says Carnegie once wrote that his philanthropy was not only obligatory, but also "proves a refuge from self-questioning." Born in 1835 in Dunfermline, the medieval capital of Scotland, Carnegie was the son of a skilled weaver who worked at home until he was displaced by the Industrial Revolution. Carnegie's mother, the materialistic and socially ambitious daughter of a political radical, mended shoes to hold the family together. After the hard winter of 1848, the family immigrated to Pittsburgh, where her sisters lived. Andrew was 12, with five years of schooling. He set to work stoking boilers, then became a telegraph messenger, a job that enabled him to meet businessmen. When he was 17, Thomas A. Scott, superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad, hired him, and the young man began his climb from rags to riches. Carnegie, whose mother had often told him to "look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves," set out to cut costs for his employers by improving efficiency and cutting wages. He continued that practice throughout his career, first making iron and then, when he saw that the age of iron was over, low-cost steel for bridges, skyscrapers and U. …