Like many men working in the hellish Carnegie mills, my great-grandfather William Danziger imbibed quantities of beer and liquor to soothe his pains and to make him feel alive again. He didn't reach sixty years of age, while Carnegie lived to the ripe age of eighty-four. In the summer of 2001, I visited my great-grandfather's gravesite in a cemetery not far from his old frame house in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh. I found a congested cemetery bordered by busy streets. There was no peace there. I also visited Andrew Carnegie's grave in the bucolic Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, near Tarrytown, New York. Carnegie has a spacious corner lot, nestled among evergreens and fern. It appears he has found a measure of peace. The contrast of the two gravesites raises one of the poignant themes to be explored in reconstructing the complicated life of a titan who came to power in America's Gilded Age: the unequal distribution of wealth that marked that era in our history.
To gain perspective on that theme, we should join Carnegie on his commute from his home to the iron and steel mills. At one time in the mid1860s, Carnegie lived in the elite Homewood suburb of Pittsburgh with its grand Federal-style and Victorian homes. He and his affluent neighbors had toilets, hot-and-cold running water, forced-hot-air furnaces, gas lighting, and iceboxes, which were not only status symbols, but means to healthy living and relative longevity. Upper-class areas like Homewood also had sewers, paved roads, and garbage incineration. The paved roads were courtesy of the city council, which funded them with bonds, a debt that was paid by poor and rich alike, although the poor districts received not one paved road, and wouldn't for at least another decade. On the streets of Homewood, Carnegie encountered fashionably dressed men—or dandies, as they were called— smelling wonderful thanks to a discreet sachet. Style demanded creaseless trousers, coats buttoned high on the chest, bowlers or stovepipe hats, pomaded hair, thick mustaches, and Dundreary whiskers rippling to their chests. If not too early in the day, he passed a lady or two in polonaise and bonnet and holding a fringed parasol overhead.
As Carnegie approached the mills and the adjacent tenement buildings, he left the paved roads for those of dirt—roads where horse droppings and human refuse became putrefied in the hot summers. There were few water lines accessible to flush the stinking excrement and garbage, because in a bout of perfect logic, the Pittsburgh City Council's Water Commission had