Andrew Carnegie: Ruthless and Rich: PBS Documentary Looks beyond His Philanthropy

By Butters, Patrick | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 19, 1997 | Go to article overview

Andrew Carnegie: Ruthless and Rich: PBS Documentary Looks beyond His Philanthropy


Butters, Patrick, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


"Andrew Carnegie was a flat-nosed Scot with a snow-white beard. Though he unleashed thousands of libraries across the world, he could be anything but Santa Claus."

So says "The Richest Man in the World," a two-hour documentary on the man most remember as a philanthropist. The program airs tomorrow night on PBS.

Narrated by David Ogden Stiers (of the "M*A*S*H" TV series), the film shows us a man who grew up in the squalor of Dunfermline, Scotland. His father was a skilled weaver, an idealist who was crushed by the Industrial Revolution. The family immigrated to Pennsylvania when Andrew was 12.

For most of his life, Carnegie was under the thumb of his domineering, penny-pinching mother, who would exhort: "Look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves." He would not marry until after her death. By then, he was 51.

He emerged in an era of completely unregulated business. Carnegie began working in a cotton mill and then became a telegraph messenger. This enabled him to run among the wealthy as he delivered their messages. He moved up to telegraph operator at age 17 by teaching himself how to send messages.

We learn early that the steel magnate found success by taking the initiative, regardless of the cost or whom it hurt. He went to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad, eventually becoming a superintendent

"Watch your costs and the profits will take care of themselves," was his credo. Make the trains bigger, run them faster, cut wages, make employees work longer - 13 hours a day, seven days a week. (They could take July Fourth off.)

He inspired competition among his plant employees. If a crew fell behind, its members would be fired. He hired men to act as spies among the workers. Unions were the bane of his existence.

Craft workers became - like Carnegie's hand-weaver father - machines. Yet the man's foresight was amazing. He knew iron bridges were the wave of the future, so he invested heavily in iron companies.

When the Iron Age was over, Carnegie turned to steel in 1873 and became its king. …

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